༺ Gwyn Tris ༻
I walked through District 21 after leaving the tram station.
Lost in thought, as I walked along the cracked and broken brick road, I was still uncertain if accepting the instructor position was a good decision for me. However, my meeting with Dean Heinkel had left a profound impression on me, and as Marquis Kalshtein had pointed out, I had nothing special planned for my future.
I used to have goals: becoming a knight, growing stronger, and ending the war. All these goals were related to Ella and Charlotte. Though I had resolved to live my life without their shadows, I struggled to find a clear path on my own.
Having lived on the battlefield for so long, I had grown too accustomed to it, making life outside the battlefield challenging. Accepting the instructor position was an attempt to discover a new direction in my life.
As I walked quietly, I found myself near the Red Bear Inn. As I was about to enter the inn, I suddenly heard the sound of a fight coming from a nearby alley. Assuming it was just local thugs fighting, I was about to ignore it when my keen hearing detected something different.
Chaotic footsteps, screams, and shouts – it was the sound of many fighting against one person.
After hesitating for a moment, I lightly kicked the ground and leaped onto a wall. With just one jump, I reached the rooftop and approached the source of the noise.
From the rooftop, I saw a black-haired boy with a tight ponytail, beating up a group of thugs in the alley below. The weapon he wielded was a stick wrapped in cloth that, upon closer inspection, resembled a sword. In other words, he had tightly wrapped a sword and scabbard in white cloth, swinging it like a club.
The thugs each wielded various weapons, like sticks and daggers, against the boy. However, he stood firm like a solid rock, blocking all incoming attacks and counterattacking each blow that came his way. The thugs were swept away like fallen leaves by the boy’s sharp sword strikes – or rather, club swings. Despite the somewhat comical appearance, he seemed quite skilled.
I wasn’t keen on getting involved in troublesome matters but was willing to help, depending on the situation. However, it seemed like my concern was unwarranted. As I was about to leave, by some coincidence, I locked eyes with one of the thugs below. His sinister gaze seemed familiar to me, as if I had seen it somewhere before.
“Ah! You’re the boss- ack!”
The thug was the same one who had shouted at me at the Red Bear Inn, vowing to get even with me. This time, he collided with one of his flying comrades and fell to the ground. He probably intended to say, ‘You’re the guy who took down our boss’, but the boy below seemed to have misunderstood something.
Having defeated all the thugs, the boy pointed his club at me and said,
“Are you their boss? Making an appearance from the rooftop is quite a classic entrance.”
It seemed like a misunderstanding, and I had a feeling that if I let it go, it would become very annoying. So, I opened my mouth to clarify.
“No, I’m not-“
“Words are useless!”
The boy cut me off and grabbed some wooden sticks lying around, hurling them at me. I bent at the waist and dodged the sticks that spun towards me, but they were merely meant to buy time for the boy to jump onto the rooftop. Without checking whether the sticks hit me, the boy leaped onto the roof like a cat, using the fence and window frames as footholds.
Then he immediately swung his club at me.
“I’ll punish the evildoer!”
The boy’s attack was fierce, but I didn’t feel any killing intent, so I decided not to hurt him either. The club swings, backed with the full force of his body, were fast and powerful, but their trajectory was predictable. It was obvious he aimed to disable my arms and legs, so dodging the attacks was quite simple.
I narrowly avoided the incoming club by moving my right leg back. The gap between us was as narrow as the thickness of a strand of hair. The boy was visibly flustered when his attack, which he assumed would surely hit, missed.
I took advantage of the opening created by his attack and struck the boy’s chest with my palm. With a thud, the boy was pushed back and realized that he had lost his footing.
The boy screamed and fell from the rooftop. His voice was unusually high and sharp for a man. I glanced down and saw that he had managed to land safely on the ground, looking up at me with a dazed expression.
“Who… who exactly are you?”
I lightly dropped down from the rooftop. There was no need to employ any special landing techniques for this height. The boy swallowed nervously, his face tense as he watched me.
“Such strong martial skills. You must be an exceptional expert… But why are you associated with these thugs who oppress others?”
“I’m not a thug.”
“Ah, in that case…”
I glanced around the area. The thugs, who had been defeated by the boy, were scattered here and there, clutching their broken limbs and groaning in pain. It wasn’t the best place for a conversation.
“Let’s move somewhere else first.”
“I’m terribly sorry!!”
The boy bowed his head so low that it was embarrassing for anyone watching. His apology attracted the stares of passersby in the middle of the street, but he remained undeterred and kept his head down.
“I have disgraced myself by swinging my weapon at an innocent person! I don’t know how to make amends for this mistake! Would you forgive me if I kneel and apologize?”
He looked like he had just come of age, with a youthful face. Seeing that he was about to kneel on the ground, I decided to stop him, thinking that he was young and had made an honest mistake.
“It’s fine. Just don’t make the same mistake again when confronting someone with a weapon.”
“Yes! Thank you for your forgiveness!”
The boy raised his head and smiled brightly, seemingly relieved by my forgiveness. He appeared quite energetic, perhaps due to his youth. Since the misunderstanding was resolved and there was no further business, I was about to part ways without any regrets when the boy hesitated and spoke up.
“Um… if it’s not too impolite, may I ask for your name?”
“Yes! I’d like to remember the name of a great master I met in a distant foreign land. Oh, my name is Gwyn Tris! I’ve just arrived in the Empire from the faraway land of Han. I have a different name in my homeland, but you can call me Gwyn.”
‘Han’ refers to a country in the far east, located at the eastern end of the continent. As far as I know, the Empire and Han maintained only a limited trade relationship due to their distance. He must have traveled quite a distance to be here. His clothes had an Eastern style as well.
I nodded and said, “I am Eon Graham. But why were you fighting thugs in a back alley if you’re from Han?”
“Ah…! Well, I was walking down the street and saw those people heading toward the inn as a group. It looked like a bad situation, so I tried to intervene, but ended up getting into a fight.”
Gwyn pointed to the Red Bear Inn. That’s when I understood the situation. The thugs who had been beaten by me earlier had gathered to take revenge and bumped into this boy on their way to the inn.
In a way, Gwyn had gotten involved in my troubles. He had taken care of the aftermath for me, so I was somewhat grateful for him saving me the hassle. However, it also led to another issue.
Gwyn cautiously spoke up, “Um, Mr. Eon, I can’t help but feel uneasy just apologizing. I’ll be in the Empire for a while, so if you ever need my help, please come find me at the Philion Academy.”
“Yes. I came to the Empire to study martial arts. Anyway, I’m in a hurry, so I’ll excuse myself now!”
Gwyn left with a unique eastern gesture, a fist-and-palm salute. His words about being in a hurry seemed genuine, as he walked away at a brisk pace. I watched the retreating figure of the boy and lost myself in thought for a moment.
The swordsmanship Gwyn had shown, although performed with a cudgel, was strikingly familiar. It was like a thousand-year-old rock, firmly rooted in one place, repelling all incoming attacks and counterattacking.
In the midst of a battlefield where countless humans and monsters intertwined, creating a living hell, the heavy and straight sword of an old man who walked the battlefield alone overlapped with the boy’s swordsmanship, reflecting both past and future.
“He is the successor of the Rock Sword, huh…”
I clenched and unclenched my palm a few times. The sensation I felt when I pushed Gwyn’s chest was unmistakable… I decided to leave it at that.
For some reason, I had a feeling that I would meet that person again.
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