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Chapter 13: Catastrophe (2)

A sharp pain emanated from my side.

It was a trace of the enemy’s blade that had grazed me earlier.

Each time my muscles contracted or relaxed, the wound flaunted its presence.

It felt as if a hot iron plate was pressed against my body.

My body screamed in agony, yet it moved more agilely. Thus, I cherished my pain.

I spurred myself on.

Faster, even if just slightly. Sharper, even if just slightly.

Ignoring the pain, I moved.

It seemed as though blood was oozing from the open wound.

It was hot blood.

As my body heated up, my eyes opened wide.

I could clearly see every move of the enemy.

The shifting of their weight as they stepped back.

The tightening of their arm muscles before thrusting the sword.

Their gaze fixing on where they would strike next.

Everything appeared to move in slow motion.

‘Ludbeck’s next attack will be a thrust. Dodge to the side. What about that nameless foe? A horizontal slash? Predictable, easy to block.’

I never stopped thinking.

Anger is a powerful motivator, but it must be controlled by cold, hard reason.

I contemplated the most efficient way to end my opponent.

A slight hesitation.

I seized the gap between attacks for a counter-strike.

Ludbeck hurriedly parried my sword.

If not for his interference, his subordinate would have lost an eye.

The subordinate quickly retreated.

‘Luckily, the sun hasn’t set yet.’

With a slight shift of my eyes, I could follow the shadows of the enemy.

This time, I attacked Ludbeck aggressively. Meanwhile, the distance between me and the subordinate trying to flank me increased.

Both were larger than me, meaning they had a reach advantage.

That was the limitation of my still-growing body.

To overcome this risk, I had to force a brawl.

Dozens of sword strikes exchanged. Whenever they tried to create distance, I dove into the breach; conversely, if they gave me room, I tried to grapple.

Martial arts is a complex discipline. Despite my youth, a formally trained member of a noble house like me couldn’t possibly be at the same level as a street swordsman.

Ludbeck was wary of my grasp.

An upward slash. Blocked.

I twisted the blade direction to stab.

Good. Ludbeck twisted his body to dodge, leaving his leg defense vulnerable.

I kicked his shin and jabbed the pommel into his wrist.

If I had gone deeper, I might have drawn some blood.

Without hesitation, I rolled to the side.

A moment later, and a knife would have pierced my stomach.

It wasn’t a vital spot, but I wondered if I should let it hit, uncertain how much more my body could endure.

“Tsk. Didn’t hear you were this good.”

“Didn’t I tell you to shut up? Your mouth reeks like a sewer.”

“Arrogant brat. Let’s see how long you can keep yapping.”

“You won’t see much with your skills.”

The clash of swords sounded irregularly.

Steel struck with lethal intent, growling with murderous rage.

Yet, there was hardly any bloodshed. My attacks were continuously disrupted, and their strikes lacked sharpness.

I couldn’t see an opportunity to deliver a fatal blow.

It was a stalemate. I made a cold, calculated judgment.

It wasn’t good. The longer I delayed, the more it disadvantaged me.

If Terion had managed to kill the two enemies in the cabin and come to support, perhaps it would have been different, but realistically, that was unlikely.

In that cabin were Sirien and Hena.

Fights where you have something to protect always put you at a disadvantage.

If Sirien were to be taken hostage, it would all be over.

I needed to hurry and help them.

‘There might just be a solution... not impossible.’

Scanning my surroundings, a risky strategy came to mind.

Blocking Ludbeck’s sword and dodging an enemy’s kick, I calculated the odds.

It seemed worth a try.

Once decided, there was no reason to hesitate.

Targeting Ludbeck’s subordinate seemed a better option.

He appeared less guarded.

Taking out even one could turn the tide of battle.

I swung my sword broadly, forcing Ludbeck to step back.

A large attack came at a cost. A broad move meant larger openings—a basic principle of swordplay.

Ludbeck’s subordinate attacked as if it was expected.

It wasn’t particularly fierce.

A slight move would probably end with just my left forearm being stabbed.

‘I’ll give it.’

I’m right-handed.

As long as I could move my sword, I could afford to take that hit.

A swordsman is most vulnerable after an attack.

His stabbing my arm meant his sword was momentarily caught. A sharp pain shot through my forearm, likely tearing the wound open.

My counterattack was blocked with a clear sound.

He wasn’t foolish, quickly withdrawing his sword to focus on defense.

But the position where he blocked was advantageous for me.

Next would be a stab.

Pushing forward from here could reach his throat.

My shorter stature made the distance slightly insufficient.

It didn’t matter. This was what I had aimed for from the start.

I thrust my sword forward with all my strength, like spearing, and let go at the right moment.

“Krgh!”

The sword, briefly airborne, lodged itself in the opponent’s throat.

A fatal blow. He wouldn’t last long in a fight, much less breathe for much longer.

There was no need to check on him anymore.

I hadn’t forgotten there were two enemies.

Below me, Ludbeck’s shadow appeared.

Having thrown my sword, I had no means to respond to his attack. I sprinted a few steps and rolled on the ground.

My target was the corpse of the first man I had killed.

I pulled a sword from the dead man’s belt and, relying purely on instinct, swung around.

Clang!

Something blocked the tip of my sword.

A successful defense.

Ludbeck’s expression contorted.

“Now it’s one-on-one, isn’t it?”

* * *

“Haa. Haa...”

It felt like my heart was going to burst.

I must have lost a lot of blood.

The drain on my stamina was severe.

The edges of my vision seemed to blur.

My hands were also losing strength.

Many injuries had occurred as I tried to regain my posture.

Although I had avoided fatal wounds, bleeding from various parts of my body hadn’t stopped.

It seemed dangerous if not treated soon, but there was no time for that yet.

Feeling as if my legs would give out, I used my sword as a cane.

I paused to catch my breath before moving again, my legs feeling unusually heavy.

Thud. Thud.

How many times had the labored sound of my steps echoed?

A pathetic voice reached my ears.

“Sa, save... please save me.”

It was Ludbeck.

The one with a severed ankle lay sprawled at my feet.

It was a ghastly sight. Just like my body bore many wounds, his condition was no different.

We were both drenched in blood.

Perhaps the difference was, I could still fight.

It seemed Ludbeck had tried to flee.

A long trail of blood marked his path.

Thinking he must have crawled like a worm, I felt a twinge of regret.

I should have witnessed that sight. My foot had crushed his waist.

The original plan was to make Ludbeck die painfully.

First, I would tear his mouth, then slowly think of the next step.

That desire had not faded.

If possible, I wanted to torture him right there and then. But there seemed no leisure for such indulgence.

“Stay still. You’re shaking.”

“Please, please save me. Don’t you want to know something? I’ll tell you everything. Anything!”

“Information?”

“Yes. I’ll tell you everything, just spare my life. It’s all my fault!”

No. I didn’t need it.

I was briefly tempted.

Keeping him alive to extract information didn’t sound like a bad idea.

But it seemed unlikely that Count Roxen would have entrusted such an individual with important information.

Even if this guy had succeeded in killing us all, wouldn’t he have been disposed of by the count eventually?

There was no reason to save a used disposable.

At least, I would have done the same.

After all, we had already discovered his betrayal.

There was nothing more to learn.

“I’m not interested. I have a lot to do. Let’s just keep it to the promise and finish this.”

I grabbed Ludbeck by the hair and lifted his head.

He sent me a desperate look. It seemed he was screaming something—it sounded like begging or cursing, but it was hard to hear.

My head was ringing, and I couldn’t understand anything.

Whatever he was saying, it wasn’t my concern.

If he wanted to live, he should have been more careful with his words.

I pried open his mouth and slowly inserted the blade.

Into the mouth. From the mouth to the throat. From the throat to the esophagus. From the esophagus to the heart.

As the blade plunged deep, blood backflowed from his mouth.

When the sword pierced his heart, his breath stopped.

I only removed the sword after confirming the focus in his eyes had completely vanished.

I wiped the smeared blood on his cloak.

‘I need to go help Terion now.’

The sword dragged heavily on the ground.

It felt as if all strength had drained from my body.

Still, I walked mindlessly and eventually reached the vicinity of the cabin.

“Aaaaaaaaaaah!”

Would it have been better if I had arrived a bit earlier?

I heard Hena’s scream.

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