༺ The Iron-Blooded Knight (2) ༻
“Starting now-! Iron Fist Ian versus Blood Rose Frey! The match between Blood Rose Frey and Iron Fist Ian begins! We ask for the fervent support of the audience!”
“Blood Rose! Smash that arrogant newcomer!”
“Iron Fist! I’m betting on you today! Finish it in one shot, just like last time!!”
As both players entered the arena, Sylvia, disguised as a commentator, heightened the audience’s atmosphere with her excited voice.
To be able to completely transform into someone else without fear of being discovered, even in front of former colleagues. Her ability to disguise was truly unmatched.
“It’s really noisy….”
Blood Rose, or rather Frida, smiled at the cheers from the audience while taking a jockey-like stance.
“But, I like it. I’ve missed the heat of the arena. Didn’t you?”
I responded grumpily with my arms folded.
“I’m not sure.”
“Hmm, it seems you’re not one to enjoy fighting? But I enjoy a contest with a strong opponent. So, I hope you can withstand enough to not spoil my fun.”
Frida von Sternlicht.
A master of imperial swordsmanship. A top-tier swordswoman who took the front lines of the Hero Party and the current Deputy Commander of the Royal Guards.
It’s acceptable to call her a former arena champion. Her swordsmanship skills are known to have reached the master class.
Just as the level of ordinary people and superhumans who can use body strengthening technique is different, those among superhumans who have reached the level of mastery have an even greater gap from those who haven’t.
At best, if one can emit some sword energy with body strengthening, standing up against the sword strength of the master class is almost impossible.
Of course, the blue radiance of mana spreading from her rapier was not sword strength but sword energy.
Showing off sword strength in such an arena would be like announcing to everyone that she’s one of the few master classes in the empire.
However, compared to ordinary body strengthening users, her sword energy was very stable.
Unlike ordinary sword energy that billows like fog or burns like flames, her unwavering sword energy was just one step away from transforming into sword strength.
Those who reach a higher level have a different level of sword energy from ordinary sword energy, naturally. If she wanted, her sword energy could transform into sword strength right now.
And even without going that far, with master-level swordsmanship and sharp sword energy, she could easily win against any ordinary opponent.
That didn’t apply to me.
“Why so? Aren’t you coming in?”
Although I met an unexpected person in an unexpected place under unexpected circumstances, this place was after all an arena and the game was already in progress.
As much as I came here for my purpose, I had to do what I had to do.
I silently unfolded my arms, reached out and snapped my fingers back and forth.
With this simple provocation, the audience’s response intensified, and Frida’s smile twisted into anger.
“Huh? You’re funny… Alright, I’ll go first then!”
Frida lifted her rapier and launched the first attack at me, aiming for my head. It was a sharp and chilling thrust, a technique of a master.
I slightly turned my head to dodge the thrust. With such evasion alone, the opportunity to attack would have returned to another person, but not her.
As a master’s attack involves predicting and acting on the opponent’s movements a few steps ahead, she already knew that I would avoid this. So, she changed her thrusting sword into a horizontal slash.
However, I had also anticipated that attack. As I dodged the sweeping sword by bending my waist, Frida raised her voice as if excited.
“You’re good at dodging! Try dodging this too!”
Frida took a light breath and swung her sword mercilessly in all directions.
A rapier was not primarily a slashing weapon. However, if it was a rapier imbued with sword energy, the situation was different.
As the sword strokes cutting the floor and iron bars of the arena scattered all around, the audience close to the arena recoiled in surprise.
A technique like a flower made of sword energy blooming.
It was a technique I hadn’t seen during the war, but I seemed to understand why she was nicknamed Blood Rose.
I quickly moved my feet and narrowly dodged Frida’s rapier. At the same time, it was important to maintain a distance where her sword seemed to barely touch me, not too far or too close.
Because then, to the audience, it would seem like I was narrowly dodging all the attacks.
As such a precarious spectacle unfolded, the audience became more enthusiastic than ever, deeply immersed in the game.
“It’s the Blood Rose’s rose flurry! I can’t believe I’m seeing this up close!”
“But Iron Fist is dodging all of it! Today’s match is really amazing!!”
At the end of her sharp flurry, Frida stopped swinging her sword and exhaled in one breath.
Instead of rushing in immediately again, she slightly lowered her sword and opened her mouth with a look of admiration.
“Avoiding my rose flurry without using body strengthening, frankly, I’m impressed. That reaction speed, that physical ability… it’d be a shame to kill you here.”
“You talk as if you’ve already won. The game isn’t over yet.”
“That’s exactly why I’m saying this. You’ve dodged well now, but you should know that if you fail to dodge even once, that moment will be your death.”
“Well, it was more dodgeable than I thought.”
“Heh, cute. It’s a problem how all men are boastful in front of women.”
“Iron Fist, let me be frank. Swear to follow me. Then I won’t kill you here and will take you under my wing. Not only that, I’ll even accept you as my subordinate.”
Her words were so absurd that I inadvertently fell silent.
However, whether she misunderstood my silence as contemplation of her offer, Frida continued her speech.
“Considering that you haven’t used body strengthening so far, you must have been born with a talent but without the right environment. Judging by your voice and features, you seem to be in your early to mid twenties….”
Her guess was off, but when I looked closely, it wasn’t completely wrong.
After all, my physical age was indeed stuck around that age.
Whether she took my non-confirmation as confirmation, Frida nodded in satisfaction and spoke.
“Iron Fist. I will teach you the magic continuous attack technique, so become my subordinate and serve me. Keep in mind that I don’t make such an offer to just anyone. It might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for you.”
“What are they doing right now! Fight! Start fighting!!”
When the gladiators in the arena did nothing but talk, boos and shouts erupted from the spectators.
But Frida, undeterred by the audience’s jeers, quietly waited for my answer. Her gaze held a calmness that could only be possessed by a strong person who doesn’t consider the possibility of being rejected.
As if she really believed herself to be a true strong person.
I found it laughably absurd.
“Why are you hesitating so much? Ah, is the offer so good that you’re suspicious? You don’t need to be. I swear on my honor that this offer is real.”
“Yes, honor. I can’t openly state it here, but my real identity is of such high standing that someone like you wouldn’t dare to-“
“You dare to speak of honor with that mouth, after discarding tens of thousands of soldiers like trash.”
At first, Frida didn’t understand my words, but soon she looked at me with an astonished expression.
Her composure was completely gone, showing just how shocked she was.
“You, could it be, you know my identity…?”
“The former arena champion, huh. I didn’t realize the Iron-Blooded Knight would enjoy such child’s play. Did you want to feel powerful here by toying with weaker opponents, as if you were a real strong person?”
“Enjoying fights with strong opponents? That’s funny. When faced with a real strong opponent, you couldn’t even consider fighting and instead sacrificed soldiers and ran away.”
“How on earth, did you know that….”
There was a reason why Frida’s nickname was the Iron-Blooded.
Commonly, people said her sharp swordsmanship and exemplary knightly demeanor gave her the nickname of the Iron-Blooded Knight, but the reality was different.
During the war, she, as part of the hero’s party, received the emperor’s trust, and had command over the imperial army, sacrificing soldiers first at every front.
It must have been a strategy to minimize the loss of the hero’s party. However, to the soldiers on the front line, it was practically a death order.
There were rumors that the orders were directed from the hero in the back, but in reality, the one who actually delivered the orders to the soldiers was her. That’s why the soldiers on the front lines often made bitter jokes among themselves.
They’d joke that surely not blood, but cold iron flowed through Frida’s veins.
This was the true origin of the nickname “Iron-Blooded Knight.”
Taking a deep breath, Frida regained her shocked composure and gripped her rapier properly again.
Now, an undeniable murderous intent glowed in her eyes.
“I don’t know how you knew my identity, but I heard your plea for death loud and clear.”
Perhaps she had no intention of hiding her identity anymore, as a deep blue mana overlaid her sword. At the sight of the brilliantly shining sword blade, everyone in the audience gasped and opened their mouths wide.
At first, they were skeptical of the term “Iron-Blooded Knight,” but seeing the posture of the sword aura now drawn by the Blood Rose, they could not help but believe.
“So now, let me kill you.”
A flower bloomed once again from Frida’s hand.
The sight of a flower made of sword aura blooming was beautiful but at the same time destructive. The iron bars and the floor that the sword aura grazed didn’t just crack, they completely disappeared as if evaporated by high heat.
If one even slightly touched that flower of sword aura, the blue petals would instantly turn blood-red.
I stepped into the destructive sword dance myself.
Frida burst out laughing.
“Choosing death yourself! It seems you’ve lost your mind in front of my swordsmanship!”
Of course, that wasn’t the case.
No matter how powerful the sword aura was, in the end, it was controlled by a human. Having analyzed the imperial swordsmanship before, I could generally predict where and how Frida’s sword would move.
Within the rampaging sword strokes, I skillfully evaded Frida’s sword, lightly touching areas other than the sword to disrupt her movements.
The back of the hand, wrist, elbow, shoulder, knee… touching the areas important for wielding the sword one by one, the flower she created began to wither gradually.
At some point, the flower disappeared completely. Seeing her technique utterly thwarted, Frida had a bewildered expression on her face.
“What is, this…?”
It was an expected outcome.
Just as an ordinary person cannot defeat a superhuman who has mastered body techniques.
Just as a superhuman cannot defeat a master class that uses sword aura.
“Don’t use the same technique twice in front of me.”
I punched Frida’s face hard.
The sound of the red mask breaking and the facial bones shattering could be heard, and Frida writhed on the floor without even being able to scream, her face bloody.
“Because it won’t work.”
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