Chapter 2: Swordmaster

His alarm clock indicated that it was 5:59.

He'd set his alarm clock to 6:00 sharp.

In just one minute, he'd hear an earsplitting alarm!

But a faint shadow pressed down on the alarm button.

And who was that shadow? It was none other than Jae Woo.

He stood right up, lightly stretched, and headed to the bathroom.

Jae Woo gathered cold water within the red washbasin, and rubbed his face with the cold water. Thus, he woke up immediately.

He then whispered to his reflection in the mirror.

"Now, let's begin."

He would only be satisfied if he immediately did what he set his mind on. 

After all, when he'd made the decision to drop out of school and become a pro-gamer, he'd immediately dropped out.

'Back then, my homeroom teacher tried so hard to stop me... I wonder if they're doing ok.'

He dispelled the sudden thought and left the house.

Hwing.

It was early in the morning, so the air was cold, but it wasn't such that he couldn't bear it.

But there was something that was making it difficult for him: his body, which teetered in the wind.

Since he lacked muscle, he felt as though a strong gale would blow him away.

'Let's at least try walking.'

Jae Woo tried his hardest to push through the wind, and took one step after another.

"Phew. Phew."

5 minutes hadn't even elapsed, yet his breathing had become haggard.

Just walking felt as difficult as finishing a marathon. Still, he didn't give up, nor did he rest.

'If I rest today, then I'll be laying down tomorrow!' Jae Woo chastised himself.

He'd already lost 2 years of his life. He didn't have the time to waste or hesitate any longer.

'2 years!' he thought, a venomous statement that came from deep in his heart.

'One more step. Just one more step!'

Jae Woo gritted his teeth, pushed through, and continued to trudge forward step after step.

* * *

Jae Woo walked for a week, building his endurance and his muscles.

Of course, he'd only trained for a week, so there wasn't any huge changes to his body.

He was still skin and bones. Still, he no longer stumbled from the wind.

Thus, he'd decided to begin his training in earnest, and sought a fencing school.

"Swordmaster," Jae Woo read the sign. 

Swordmaster.

It wasn't a sport; it was a dojo that taught those who pursued the art of combat swordsmanship.

Thus, the training its pupils underwent was both tough and strict, and their spars reflected real life combat.

In a few words: it taught true swordsmanship. It had nothing to do with Jae Woo, who had once been a pro-gamer.

'Back then, that is.'

But the situation had changed.

He needed to get into the fencing school no matter what. 

There were three reasons behind this.

'First, training my body.'

He didn't want a body that he could show off, but a properly trained body. Like a true martial artist!

'And true combat sense.'

He didn't have any scientific evidence, but he felt like those who could fight in real-life could fight well in a game.

Because Jae Woo had spent many years as a pro-gamer, he had experienced that first hand.

In other words, a virtual reality character was strongly influenced by their controller's senses, experience, and combat sense.

That was the reason so many of the virtual reality game rankers were black belts.

Of course, there were those, like Jae Woo in the past, who had improved their abilities within the game itself.

In any case, Jae Woo was currently unable to play the game, so he needed to improve his combat senses.

And to improve those combat senses, Jae Woo felt like Swordmaster was the best fit.

Since it was the dojo that sparred the most in the country.

And the last reason was...

'It's really cost-effective.'

A one month membership to Swordmaster cost 200,000 won.

Overall, it wasn't cheap. Since a sports fencing school would cost about 100,000 won per month.

But in exchange, Swordmaster was open from early in the morning to late at night and was even open on the weekends.

It was only closed on new years and Korean Thanksgiving.

Jae Woo planned on attending the dojo from morning to night every day, so Swordmaster was indeed the best fit for him.

Still, 200,000 won was still a lot for someone in his situation.

However, once he was discharged, his family didn't need to pay his medical fees anymore.

And so, he apologetically asked his mother for 200,000 won and came here.

His mother gave him the money readily, and Jae Woo resolved himself once more.

'I promise, I'll succeed just like before... and give you a life of luxury!'

In any case, for all these reasons, Jae Woo had to become a student of Swordmaster.

The problem was...

Would they even accept him when it was difficult for him to even lift a wooden sword?

'Well, let's go in first.'

Jae Woo forcefully opened the dojo's door.

"Excuse me."

Ding.

The doorbell rang, and the man who seemed to be the instructor came by.

The instructor wore a uniform and was a tall, rugged man, with thick eyebrows and big bright eyes.

"What business do you have here?" the man asked.

"I want to learn swordsmanship," Jae Woo said.

"Mm."

The man, having looked him over, sported an awkward expression.

It was great that someone came looking to learn swordsmanship.

However, Jae Woo's body was in no condition to learn it.

'He has almost no muscle.'

It would be catastrophic if Jae Woo, with his weak body, were to undergo their rigorous training. No, it would definitely be a disaster.

"I was bedridden for 2 whole years due to an accident. That's why my body is a bit... But I can still do well." Seeing the instructor's expression, Jae Woo replied immediately.

"I'll direct you to some other dojos. The training here is too tough. You cannot withstand our training with that body of yours."

The training was so rigorous and dull that even the healthiest of people quit on the first day.

What's worse, Jae Woo's body wouldn't even last an entire day; even an hour would be tough.

That's what the man had decided.

"I can take it," Jae Woo said, his eyes conveying his confidence.

"I've been doing this for more than 10 years. I can tell at first glance. Please listen to me," the man said, attempting to convince him.

Of course, Jae Woo wouldn't give up so easily.

"Please put me through the training for a few days at least," Jae Woo said.

"I cannot." 

The man shook his head.

"Then one day. Please train me for a single day. If I can't handle it, then I'll leave right away," Jae Woo said, underlining the single day's worth of training.

"Hmm."

The man changed his mind, as the scrawny kid wouldn't give in.

'He'll cave in a day. No, an hour. After an hour, he'll leave on his own.' 

The man ultimately nodded his head.

"Ok. Then spend the day in the dojo. Your name is...?" the man asked.

"My name is Jae Woo. Choi Jae Woo."

"I'm Master Kim Deok Bae."

"Yes, Master."

"Then, how about we start with 500 downward swings? If you're not up to it, then you can just go," Deok Bae grinned. It was obvious why he was grinning.

Then let's see how much you can take!

However, his grin soon turned to astonishment.

Whenever Jae Woo dropped his sword, he would pick it back up and swing it once more. Whenever he fell, he would stand back up, grit his teeth, and continue stubbornly swinging his sword. And thus, he managed to finish 500 swings!

Once he was finished, Jae Woo grabbed his sword and used it to support himself. His entire body was shaking.

"W-What's... next?" Jae Woo asked, his voice faint. He was basically saying, 'What else do you have in store?'

"Anymore and you'll die!" Deok Bae yelled and stole the sword away from him.

Once he took Jae Woo's sword, Jae Woo fell flat on the ground. 

Deok Bae was so surprised that he looked Jae Woo over. Fortunately, Jae Woo had just used up all his energy and fallen asleep.

'What a tough cookie!'

Deok Bae's eyes, which looked upon Jae Woo, were filled with astonishment.

He'd once thought that Jae Woo would give up in an hour, but he changed his mind.

'This kind of guy ain't a quitter.'

He was right.

The first day, the next, and even a week went by without him giving up.

And that's how half a year passed by.

* * *

Half of year was by no means a short period of time.

Despite that, Jae Woo went to the dojo every day. He'd never missed a single day.

"Hello."

Jae Woo opened the dojo's doors and went inside.

"You're here?" Deok Bae smiled and greeted him. The two of them had gotten quite close over the half year.

"I'll get changed and start training immediately."

Jae Woo went into the dressing room and took off his clothes.

His body had gone through a drastic change.

To sum it up: his body was as thick, sturdy, and powerful as a wild horse!

His body was proof that his time here wasn't a waste of time.

Jae Woo, who'd changed into his uniform, came out and began training immediately.

First up, 500 downward swings!

Deok Bae came over and swung his sword beside him.

Jae Woo had swung his sword the most within the dojo.

Deok Bae swung his sword just as much as him, as if he couldn't allow himself to lose.

The two finished their 500 downward swings, and then went on to 500 horizontal swings, 500 thrusts, and 500 diagonal swings. Once they were done, they sat on the floor and took a break.

"Phew, this is tough. Guess you can't beat age," Deok Bae said while massaging his shoulder. Since he was in his mid-30's, his body was quick to tire.

Whereas, Jae Woo, who was still in his early 20's, was quick to recover.

"Let's begin sparring." 

Jae Woo gripped his sword and stood up.

"After I rest a little more," Deok Bae said, making a big fuss over nothing.

Rather than say anything, Jae Woo merely looked at him, as if he telling him to hurry up.

'Phew, this guy doesn't know how to be considerate, does he?'

Ultimately, Deok Bae righted his weary body.

"I seriously won't hold back," Deok Bae said deeply.

Once his face creased, his already rugged face looked even more fearsome than before.

Deok Bae made the first move.

However, it didn't work on Jae Woo at all.

After all, there existed monsters more fearsome and intimidating than any human within a virtual reality game. 

Thus, to Jae Woo, who had seen such monsters on a regular basis, Deok Bae's face looked like nothing more than a comedy/horror B-movie. 

"Haahp!"

Jae Woo took the first move and attacked.

Thrust!

It was a sudden attack.

Moreover, he was aiming for his balls!

However, the two weren't wearing their protective equipment.

If a random pedestrian had seen this, they would scream in fright.

Of course, Deok Bae easily blocked Jae Woo's blade, as if he were familiar with it.

Swordmaster was a school that trained its students in real-life swordsmanship.

In a spar, surprise attacks were allowed, as well as strikes to critical areas like the back of the head or the balls. What's worse, hand-to-hand combat was allowed as well.

Obviously, they didn't wear protective equipment, like real-life.

As an instructor of Swordmaster, Deok Bae was often on the receiving end of such surprise attacks, and even implemented them himself.

Daahk!

Deok Bae, having blocked Jae Woo's strike, immediately initiated a counterattack. He was aiming for a critical area himself, the solar plexus!

Jae Woo leaned to the side and avoided Deok Bae's attack. He then swiped his sword downwards.

Swish. 

The sound of his blade cutting through air rang out in the large hall. Deok Bae, too, cut through the air and swung his sword.

Jae Woo and Deok Bae tensely exchanged blows. 

Ddak! Ddak! Daahk!

Despite that, the sound of their swords clashing wouldn't cease. 

Both their attacks would barely graze each other's uniforms.

Deok Bae would take the offensive and push forward, and Jae Woo would persistently hold on. Despite that, Deok Bae didn't look so good.

'You monster!'

To him, Jae Woo was definitely a monster.

He was definitely a monster. After all, Jae Woo had only learned swordsmanship for half a year, yet he was able to spar evenly with someone who'd learned for over 10!

"Die!" 

Deok Bae began to put more strength into his sword.

"No thank you!"

Jae Woo likewise did the same.

Daahk!

Their swords clashed and Jae Woo was pushed back.

He had no chance of beating Deok Bae in pure strength or swordsmanship.

Instead, Jae Woo would move ahead of time, as if knowing where Deok Bae's sword would land, giving him an advantage.

And he would somehow manage to find an opening and attack in unexpected ways. 

Of course, Deok Bae wouldn't fall to Jae Woo's unconventional attacks due to his accumulated experience and skill.

Deok Bae carefully blocked Jae Woo's blows, and pushed forward.

And so, their swords clashed repeatedly again and again!

Overall, Deok Bae held the advantage the entire match, but Jae Woo continued to hold on.

Ultimately, they couldn't decide a winner and the match ended in a draw.

"Eh, it ended in a draw."

Deok Bae furrowed his brow. 

If it wasn't a spar resembling real-life, but a real-life spar, then Deok Bae definitely would've won.

Since he wouldn't have controlled his strength so that Jae Woo wasn't hurt. And he would've used some fatal techniques as well.

But even if he wanted to replicate a real-life battle, he couldn't do all that. After all, his goal wasn't to hurt him.

Yet, their match ended up with such a bitter result due to that.

'What an enviable bastard.'

Deok Bae gazed at Jae Woo.

Jae Woo had seen through his movements way too easily. And he instinctively found and attacked his weak spots.

It was definitely a gift from God. Plus, he was such a hard worker!

'He'll probably get stronger than me, huh?'

Deok Bae was jealous of Jae Woo's raw talent, and felt vexed that Jae Woo's swordsmanship would surpass his own with more refinement.

"Why are you looking at me like that?"

Jae Woo, having noticed Deok Bae's fervent gaze, furrowed his brow.

"I'm just jealous. What, got a problem with that!?"

"Of what?"

Jae Woo tilted his head.

"I'm jealous cause you're a genius!"

"Who, me?"

Jae Woo laughed, speechless. What was he even talking about? 

"What else are you? You've been only learning for half a year, yet you can already fight evenly with me!" Deok Bae yelled suddenly.

"..."

Jae Woo was about to refute his claims, telling him that he was no genius, but shut himself up.

He wasn't sure about the blade, but he definitely had some sort of special ability.

'I'm not a genius. I guess you could say... I have ESP?'

Then, Jae Woo gradually recollected the memories of that day, the day he first became self-aware of his special ability.

Previous Chapter Next Chapter