༺ The Second Nightmare ༻
Desperately gasping for air, I blankly stared at the dust-covered floor.
Blood and sweat mixed together, dampening the dirt ground. A pungent smell assaulted my nostrils.
Why am I like this?
What am I fighting for?
As if to wake up my momentarily disoriented mind, a mocking voice sounded from above.
“Is it over already?”
That single phrase snapped me back to my senses.
I clenched my teeth and struggled to lift my battered body. Though my whole body was severely bruised, I ignored the pain throughout and forcefully stood on my knees.
After blinking my eyes several times, my blurry vision finally cleared. The face of my opponent was sharply etched in my eyes.
Snow-white hair. Blood-red eyes. He laughed haughtily as if looking down on everyone.
There were countless names pointing to that man.
The First Prince of the Galatea Empire.
Descendant of the White Dragon.
Master of the Holy Sword.
The Hero to defeat the Demon King.
On the other hand, the one standing opposite was no more than a common soldier on the battlefield. There was nothing to rival his dazzling titles, but I simply gripped my spear tightly once again.
The man before me, Wilhelm von Galatea, furrowed his brows as if unable to comprehend.
“Really, I can’t understand it.”
I put strength in both arms and thrust my spear straight ahead. It was a movement I had repeated tens of thousands of times. The thrown spear accurately pierced the exact spot I intended without any shaking.
However, my spear was effortlessly blocked by Wilhelm’s casually swung sword.
“Your technique is crude.”
Wilhelm knocked my spear aside and kicked me in the stomach.
Even his light kick sent my body, which I had trained diligently every day for years, flying like a toy and crashing onto the ground. The suffocating pain left me unable to control my body properly.
“And your physical strength is weak.”
What Wilhelm held in his hand was a common iron sword supplied to ordinary soldiers. The proof of the Hero, the Holy Sword, merely served as a decoration on his waist.
Despite this, I couldn’t even block his ordinary iron sword. All I could do was roll on the ground and desperately try not to let go of my spear.
Perhaps my pitiful state looked amusing to Wilhelm, as he didn’t hide the laughter in his voice when he spoke.
“What’s the reason I have to duel with such a low-level guy like you? Huh? Why don’t you try answering that?”
His question wasn’t directed at me, but at a nun who was watching the duel.
She was a woman with black hair, black eyes, and skin so pale it was almost white.
And she wasn’t by my side but across from me, watching the duel next to the Hero.
What on earth, why?
Why are you there?
I couldn’t understand it at all.
Just a few days ago, we were laughing and spending time together.
We promised to be together until the day we achieved our dreams and painted our future.
What she desired was what I desired as well. That’s why I was determined to accomplish it, even if my body were to crumble. However, my resolve turned out to be futile and laughable.
Because Charlotte said she would leave me.
“Why… why on earth…?”
Was I not enough for her?
So she decided to follow the Hero instead?
I couldn’t accept it. That’s why I intended to prove that I was stronger by defeating that man and holding onto Charlotte.
But this was the result.
With my skills, I couldn’t reach the Hero.
Charlotte didn’t respond to anything. Not my question, nor the Hero’s. She just stood there like a doll, with a cold expression, quietly waiting for the outcome of this duel.
Her lips, which always held a gentle smile, were tightly sealed.
When Charlotte didn’t answer, Wilhelm snorted with a sullen expression.
“Heh, whatever… Just watch from there. Watch how this fool breaks pathetically.”
I struggled to stand up, planting my spear into the ground for support.
At that moment, Wilhelm’s sword swung rapidly. It was a strike so fast that it was hard to follow with the eyes. I barely managed to lift my spear and block it with the shaft.
Jing! The moment I blocked the sword, a tingling shock spread throughout my body, from my arm to my spine.
“Is that what you call blocking?”
Another kick landed on my stiff abdomen.
My body rolled on the dirt floor, and a bitter taste filled my mouth.
But as if driven by instinct, my body struggled to get up again.
Scratching the dirt floor with my fingers as if they were about to break, I mustered the remaining strength. I cleared my blurry vision and looked straight ahead. Wilhelm’s red eyes seemed to be staring at something both repulsive and unfamiliar.
“Really, I can’t understand it.”
As I painfully got up, as if he had been waiting for it, Wilhelm kicked my spear away and stomped on my abdomen.
“Did you seriously think you could beat me?”
From the beginning, Wilhelm had persistently targeted only my abdomen. As if he were taunting a defeated dog.
The sound of flesh ripping was vivid in my ears. I barely managed to control my breathing and desperately endured, but it was only prolonging my agony.
This duel was not just witnessed by Charlotte. The Hero’s other companions and all the members of the unit were watching my miserable state.
My superiors, fellow soldiers, those who used to torment me, and even those who still didn’t like me. Even the unit’s commander-in-chief, Marquis Kalshtein, was watching this duel.
Their gazes all seemed to say the same thing.
Why are you going so far?
Just give up already.
Haven’t you realized long ago that you can’t win?
The woman who loved me and whom I loved, just looked at me coldly. Ironically, those who disliked me and were indifferent to me were desperately urging me to give up.
I tried to lift my body by placing my palms on the ground, but my legs wouldn’t muster any strength. Sweat dripped from my forehead, and my deep breaths echoed in my chest.
My whole body hurt. My heart felt like it was going to burst.
And yet, I got up again.
Wilhelm let out a hollow laugh that could be either admiration or mockery, and swung his sword again.
I couldn’t even follow the first strike with my eyes. But now, I could see it better than before. I thought that maybe, just maybe, I could avoid it…
It was meaningless. My body had already reached its limit long ago. Even if I could follow with my eyes, if my body couldn’t react, I could only manage to block it.
“Well, your stamina is impressive. It is impressive, but…”
Wilhelm swung his leg. Of course, he was aiming for my abdomen. I forcibly twisted my trembling arm to block the kick.
“That’s all you’ve got.”
Even if I blocked it once, the attack continued. The painful shock built up in my body, reaching all the way to my bones. I knew that if this continued, eventually, even blocking would become impossible.
At that moment, I wouldn’t be able to get up anymore.
In the end, Wilhelm’s kick struck my abdomen.
Unable to bear the repeated pain, I finally retched violently.
A mixture of saliva and stomach acid fell to the floor in large drops.
“You’re a guy who can’t even use hardening techniques. Wasn’t the result obvious from the start?”
“Keuk, keuhk! Kuleuk, kuleuk…!”
I knew it too. I had done as much as I could. Getting up and falling down dozens of times in a fight where there wasn’t even a shred of possibility. If I collapsed and didn’t get up again, no one would say anything.
The dusty dirt floor seemed as inviting as a bed. It felt like I could fall into a deep sleep just by lying down.
My whole body desperately wanted to rest.
But if I let out a deep sigh, slept, and woke up,
Charlotte would no longer be by my side.
I didn’t want that.
I didn’t even want to imagine it.
Losing Charlotte, and once again tasting the helplessness and loss that I felt when I lost Ella long ago, were unbearable.
Why am I so powerless?
Why do I only lose my loved ones in my life?
The reason was all too clear.
It’s because I lack strength.
Because when you’re weak, all you do is get robbed.
I was fed up with it. I had already experienced enough of my own powerlessness.
What I needed was real strength. So, what is real strength?
I stared straight ahead, my eyes wide open.
Blue mana surged like a mist around Wilhelm’s body. The proof of strength that was not granted to ordinary people.
Body strengthening technique.
Up until now, I had tried so hard to understand what Body strengthening technique was, but I couldn’t. I had no idea what magic power was, how to transmit it to my body, or what it meant to strengthen my body.
But if I didn’t try anything, I would only keep repeating the same thing.
I clenched my teeth, hit my motionless thigh with my fist, and got up. Then, I held the spear like a sword and imitated Wilhelm’s stance.
I copied the perfect stance before my eyes as a model.
At that, Wilhelm’s face showed not only mockery and annoyance but also a vicious discomfort.
“What are you doing now?”
My stance and Wilhelm’s were perfectly identical. The only difference was the weapon we held in our hands.
Wilhelm seemed to think he was being insulted, and he spat out in a rough voice, his face distorted.
“You can’t just copy the stance and expect it to work. The most important part is missing anyway. You should know that, right?”
I know. High-level swordsmanship assumes the use of mana.
So, without being able to handle magic power, it’s just an empty shell that only looks good on the surface.
But as for how to use it, I have experienced it with my body so far.
I took a deep breath.
Wilhelm took his stance, facing my last desperate effort.
“…Ha, fine. I’m getting tired of this too. Let’s end this amusement.”
I copied his stance exactly the same way. Like a mirror.
The moment Wilhelm kicked the ground and lunged forward, I stepped forward at the exact same time, and at that moment, blue mana burst out of my body explosively.
In an instant, the spear’s blade knocked Wilhelm’s sword away. The sword flew high into the sky, and a bewildered expression appeared on his face. It was the first time I saw that expression on him.
I struck his face with the tip of the spear.
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