‘He’s not as scared as I thought he would be – even though he’s not an Expert.’
Frederic was displeased that Milton did not shrink back at all. He maintained his poker face on the outside, but a hundred thoughts ran by inside him. Why? How was his opponent so calm even as he was facing off against an Expert?
Those who had not reached the Expert level felt great pressure when facing one. This nervousness would chain them in an actual fight, so as to make the skill gap between them even wider than it needed to be. Aiming for this effect, Frederic was exerting himself to draw out his aura as if he was parading it. It was a form of intimidation by flexing his prowess as an Expert.
In reality, it was a rather burdensome act for Frederic to continue forcibly spouting out his aura like this, as despite being an Expert, he was only of the lowest grade.
‘Am I just needlessly wasting my energy?’
The only ones in this place who knew Frederic’s inner concerns were himself and Jerome, the one who had reached the highest level an Expert could be. And as Jerome watched the spectacle unfolding before him, he was assured in his heart.
‘The Lord can win. By no means is this an unwinnable opponent.’
As far as Jerome was concerned, Frederic’s decision of meaninglessly wasting his aura in a stationary standoff was a bad move. The longer this situation went on, the lower Frederic’s odds of winning became.
‘At times like this, you’ve got to move and apply pressure right away.’
Uncannily, as soon as Jerome thought that…
Frederic could not stand the faceoff any longer and was the first to rush into Milton. He swung his sword coated with his aura as he continued to pressure Milton.
Clang! Kang! Whoosh!
Frederic’s blade ruthlessly pressured Milton as if he intended to end this quickly.
‘He should have done that from the start.’
Jerome thought as watched the scene unfolding before them, shaking his head. Frederic’s decision may have been late, but the method itself was not wrong. However, just because the method is correct does not mean it would lead to a certain victory.
A hint of uncertainty revealed itself on Frederic’s face as he continued the brutal assault. To others, it may have seemed like a one-sided attack, but Frederic knew better as he continued to cross blades — his attacks right now were not bearing much of an outcome.
‘Let’s focus. Focus. This might be a real fight, but his sword is still slower than Jerome’s.’
Milton did not dare to receive the strikes head-on, but rather stepped backward and deflected them aside at oblique angles. He negated his opponent’s energy by subtly redirecting the course of his swings, as if he was conforming to the flow of a water stream instead of fighting against it. This was a trick that was burned into him after sparring with the top-tier Expert that was Jerome until he was sick of it.
Despite the fact that Frederic was also an Expert, the strikes of one that was in the lowest tier of this class were not as pressuring. Rather, the one who was becoming impatient was Frederic as Milton continued defending steadfastly. Before long…
“Coward! Have some dignity and face me head-on!” Federic provoked Milton with a fierce voice.
But was Milton really the type to be baited by such provocation so easily?
“Nope. Who’s that good for anyway?”
Frederic’s restlessness grew at Milton’s tease. That restlessness imbued even more power in his sword, yet his power became that much more unstable. Although he was an Expert, Frederic could not use his aura for long periods as he was only of the lowest grade. In fact, he would be rendered to a more powerless state than normal after he burned through all his aura.
‘This is my fault. I should have fought carefully while sparing my aura.’
In the end, Frederic had snowballed mistake after mistake. He had taken Milton much too lightly in the beginning. The cause of this was his peculiar conviction that he could win against as many knights as necessary if they had not reached the Expert level, a confidence which formed after reaching Expert himself.
Carelessness is never an option. Any person who had clutched a sword in their hands would have had these words hammered into them over and over – yet things like this still happened.
There were occasions on the battlefield where knights who had reached the lower levels of an Expert – or even the mid-levels – would lose their lives to the spear of a mere footman. Of course, these situations did not unfold in a one-on-one scenario; but the conditions call ‘war’ have a diverse plethora of variables.
Although Frederic had reached new levels, he was yet to garner enough experience to be aware of this. The flow of the duel was already tilting completely in Milton’s favor.
Klang! Kah kah kah kah…
The more Frederic repeated his flurry of attacks, the weaker his aura became.
Now going beyond receiving and deflecting the attacks, Milton deadlocked their swords and started pushing his opponent back. Milton was testing how much energy his adversary had left before he was to begin his own assault in earnest. Seeing Frederic unable to stand his ground and pulling back, Milton became surer.
‘It seems he’s quite drained. Should I slowly start pushing for the victory?’
He believed that the time for his counterattack had arrived. The lingering aura on his opponent’s blade had definitely faded, and his heavy breathing revealed how little stamina he had left.
‘Good. Let’s go!’
Having steeled his resolve, Milton was about to start his frontal assault when…
Jerome’s voice rang out from his place far detached from the action. At that moment, Milton reflexively reeled back. His body reacted first before his mind for this movement. And then…
That move saved Milton’s life. It would have been a critical hit, as they say. Rising up from beneath Milton’s bosom, a shiv tickled the tip of Milton’s nose and brushed by.
‘He dodged this?’
Frederic was sorely disappointed. He waited for Milton’s offense to come out, and was aiming to use a short dagger he was holding in his opposite hand behind his back to stab Milton from his blind spot at the right time. Essentially, it was safe to say that this was the last card up his sleeve that could net him a victory.
This was not the swordsmanship of a knight, but the unorthodox trick of a mercenary. While this skill was never taught in a knight’s regular course of education, the Republics, prioritizing actual combat, taught this move to their soldiers as a useful last resort.
The strength of this skill lay in subverting expectations. It did not exploit the gaps in someone’s swordsmanship, but rather the ones in their thinking. To knights, holding a shank in the other hand and stabbing opponents from their blind spot was an act they could not begin to fathom in a duel of honor. Consequently, there were many cases where a knight without much field experience who participated in a war would meet their end to these tricks.
And Milton almost became one of those. However, Jerome was able to save his life through his rightly timed advice.
‘That was dangerou- ugh…’
Although Milton managed to step back by a hair’s breadth, his predicament was not yet over. Frederic swung with a decisive attack to exploit Milton’s stance, who had lost his balance while desperately dodging the last strike. This time, a vivid aura was imbued in his blade.
‘This is how it ends.’
Knowing well that this was his last real chance, Frederic poured in all the strength left in his mind, body, and soul.
‘Will you try to sidestep this? No, you’ve got no choice but to receive it.’
It was impossible for Milton in his current pose to dodge or redirect his enemy’s strike. He had to swing his own blade and receive this blow from the front, but the power in his opponent’s sword was way too strong to do that.
‘This is bad!’
The time of reckoning was here. Jerome was ready to jump out. Interfering in a one-on-one duel was akin to staining the honor of the Lord involved. However, Jerome knew that his Lord’s life was more important than his honor, and was prepared to swoop in regardless.
As Jerome was about to leap in, Milton swung his sword with a primal roar. Wrapped around Milton’s own blade was a distinct aura.
The auras collided, then Milton and Frederic each took a step back. However, compared to Milton who seemed fairly fine, Frederic was…
Frederic’s mouth convulsed as he vomited blood. He had suffered an internal injury after the blow in which he had poured everything collided. As blood dripped from his mouth, Frederic stared at Milton’s sword.
“Looks like I’ve got shit-all luck.”
Frederic became dejected as he watched the aura imbued in his opponent’s sword. His opponent most certainly had not been an Expert as recently as the start of their match. But the Expert level had awakened in the midst of it, as if it had simply been waiting for a big moment. It was as if the god of fate was on their side.
‘How unfair. This is so unfair that I just feel completely cheated.’
Frederic wanted to grab the god’s collar and demand an explanation if such a thing was possible.
‘I became an Expert?’ Milton was equally bewildered.
He knew that his ability had reached the brink of an Expert - but as he was unable to overcome that one last wall in the least, he had been on edge. Even as Jerome drilled him during their training sessions to his absolute limits, there were no signs of surpassing it, yet…
‘Who would’ve known I’d overcome it in a real battle.’
Milton looked over to Jerome on the side, who smiled as if he had anticipated this all along.
‘Perhaps this was why Jerome forced me into this arena.’
It was now that Milton understood Jerome’s intentions. In reality, Milton’s skill was already on par with an Expert. It was only that Milton was subconsciously holding himself back from taking the final step, like a bird hesitating to leave its nest after its wings had fully grown.
But upon being placed squarely in this real, critical situation, Milton’s latent potential was forced forth to overcome the wall of an Expert. As Milton checked his own status window, he discovered that his Strength stat had increased from 70 to 72. His lips were about to instinctively curl into a grin - but first, he needed to deal with the current duel.
“Will you continue?”
As Milton said those words while pointing his sword at his opponent, Frederic clenched his teeth and forced himself to ready his own.
“The word ‘surrender’ does not exist in the tomes of our virtuous Republic.”
“I see. Then there’s no helping it.”
Milton began attacking Frederic without a hint of sympathy. Having reached the Expert level, Milton poured his aura into his sword without hesitation and started swinging.
Having not only used all his energy but also suffering from internal injuries, Frederic did not have the capabilities to withstand this attack. He lost his sword after a single strike from Milton.
“This is the end.”
Milton’s next attack promptly cut open Frederic’s chest in a line, so neatly and cleanly that it almost seemed heartless.
Frederic collapsed with a fountain of blood. He was an outstanding individual of the Republic with a bright future, yet his talent never got to fully bloom and was now buried under the cold Grey Mountains. It was a shame, but one could find talented individuals in any corner of the earth that could not see the light of day because they were unfortunate enough to face bigger talents in their time.
The loser died, and the winner lived on to leave their name on the right side of history. Such was war.
After killing Frederic, the surviving Milton mustered up his voice.
“Milton Forrest of the Western Front has felled Frederic of the Republic!”
This announcement that could be heard from every corner of the battlefield was really the signal flare that indicated the end of this battle.
“Viscount Forest has won!”
The morale of the allied troops skyrocketed as Milton’s victory in his duel was ascertained. On the other hand, the morale of the Republican troops plummeted at the news of losing their commander, and their command structure completely collapsed.
The forces inside Crow Fortress pushed out the Republicans valiantly as if they were repaying everything they had suffered until now. Eventually, the Republican troops were routed and fled in every possible direction.
Having kept their fortress safe, the soldiers of the Western Front cheered with joy. They were also well aware of who this victory was thanks to.
“Hurrah for Viscount Milton Forrest!”
“Hurrah for the great hero of the West!”
“Mil-ton! Mil-ton! Mil-ton!”
They chanted his name. This may have been a small battle at a scale of just over 1000 troops in total, but it was one that nevertheless had a major impact on the rest of the frontline. The Western Front’s Command Center would probably trivialize Milton’s meritorious services again. However, the survivors of this fortress were now completely certain.
They were certain of the existence of a hero named Milton Forrest.Previous Chapter Next Chapter