༺ The First Letter (65) ༻
There was a flash as the hatchet in my hand ruthlessly traced a silver trajectory through the air. It was a simple but brilliant movement that maximized the element of surprise.
Senior Olmar looked somewhat taken aback by the sudden attack, but as expected, he responded swiftly.
He snatched one of the flying hatchets out of the air as he brought it down with a powerful slam. Although there was a hint of hesitation in his movement which weakened his strike, he was still able to defend himself.
It probably took his all to parry my attack just by grabbing the nearest weapon in the path of my hatchet.
There was a terrifying collision as Senior Elsie stood beside me with her mouth agape in panic.
Her sapphire eyes bore into mine, as if asking what the hell I was doing.
‘Are you crazy?’ seemed to be what she was asking through her stare.
However, a confrontation was the only way to determine superiority in hatchet competition. Merely juggling hatchets wasn’t an accurate demonstration of skill.
Senior Olmar boasted a strong body that could bring out every bit of strength his muscles could muster. The fact that his blow stung while his arm remained steady was proof that my strike had been largely ineffective.
If I was inferior in strength, there was only one option open to me – to take him off-guard.
Since my first blow must have already made Senior Olmar lose his cool, I continued to unleash a barrage of attacks.
My senses sharpened with each flying spark from clashing metal. After a few rounds, I stopped my offensive when Senior Olmar put his hand on his secondary hatchet.
Just as I expected, he striked with his second hatchet. I sidestepped the blow and successfully evaded it.
The sharp sound of the air being torn apart by his hatchet pierced my ears. Just the sound of it was enough to send chills down my spine. If I had allowed myself to get hit by that, I would definitely be crawling on the ground.
Following through, Senior Olmar took the initiative to go on the offensive. I dodged another swing, and parried one more.
Only a short time had passed, but the tables had already turned. The chain of barrages poured on me as though it was a torrential downpour.
I determined I couldn’t afford to stay on the defensive. I planted my backfoot firmly into the ground and immediately twisted it to build up momentum.
Then, I shot ahead.
I advanced, carrying my entire body forward while searching for the tiniest crack in Senior Olmar’s posture. Before I even realized it, my body was already within a foot’s distance from him.
With his body over two meters and possessing naturally long arms, I would be at an advantage if I could close in on him. Since his arms were so long, I knew that he wouldn’t have the means to immediately defend from within close proximity.
However, Senior Olmar was a seasoned mercenary and was able to promptly respond to my charge. He took a step back and hastily pulled back the hatchet he was about to swing.
When I took a step forward, he took a step back. With each swing of my hatchet, Senior Olmar’s hatchet narrowly missed me as well. A cacophony rang through the air with each of our movements as our hatchets’ hilts shook with every clash.
It was as if we were dancing. We moved back and forth in conjunction much like exchanging a series of smoothly interlocking steps. Just… my partner was a muscular man with short, cropped hair.
But it couldn’t be helped. Life was a path that had to be traversed even while bearing disgrace, and if that disgrace was to share a dance with a man, I had to do so even if I rather wouldn’t if I had the choice.
In the midst of pushing Senior Olmar into a corner, I suddenly took a step back. The gap widened as Senior Olmar took a step back, having expected me to approach.
I then took a step forward and hurled the hatchet at him as he lunged towards me.
It was frighteningly fast, and even though it was at close range, my throwing stance gave Olmar ample time to react. As he deftly parried the hatchet, my hand reached for my sword.
This was it. At this range, my sword was superior to his hatchet. Senior Olmar briefly hesitated as he stepped back after parrying my hatchet.
While I couldn’t increase my speed, I trusted my footwork to keep me out of his reach.
My sword came to a halt mere inches away from Senior Olmar’s taut forearm muscles.
I wasn’t able to aim for his heart or throat. That would have been a complete victory, but Senior Olmar wasn’t that careless. It also indicated that I wasn’t good enough yet.
Only a few minutes had passed at most, but in that short time, we had exchanged a flurry of blows. Soon, silence filled the area, and I could feel everyone’s eyes fixated on our fight.
Their stares didn’t matter, though. The only thing that mattered to me right now was the person in front of me.
I locked eyes with Olmar wordlessly. He stood motionless, his eyes conflicted after trying to parry my hatchet for so long.
He seemed to be debating whether or not he should continue and fight with his full strength, but it seemed like he didn’t want to waste any more energy in front of so many prying eyes, especially right before the hunting festival.
Soon, a heavy sigh escaped Olmar’s lips.
“Your footwork is abnormal…….”
“I’m quite confident in it.”
“It’s not just your footwork, you’re very good at reading the space against your opponent. Have you been studying something related to that?”
‘Well, I am taking a course in topology.’
I thought about making a snarky joke, but I held back since it wasn’t funny at all. Amongst swordsmen, “studying” was synonymous with training. In other words, he was asking if I specially practiced my spacing.
There was no way such an advanced skill could be taught without a teacher, but I remained silent since I didn’t need to give my enemy such information.
Olmar seemed to understand the meaning behind my silence and nodded heavily. He slowly lowered his hatchet, and his taut muscles soon relaxed.
I sheathed my blade with a sigh of relief then bowed, giving him proper respect since he was a senior.
“Thank you for guiding me.”
“I didn’t mean to, you brat…….”
Senior Olmar’s response was sour. It seemed that he had not intended to test his abilities with a real hatchet after all.
I didn’t understand. Was he really going to leave after all those stunts?
Before I could ask him, someone forcefully slapped Senior Olmar on the back.
There was a resounding thud like a sack of sand had fallen to the ground. I could tell by the sound, however, that it hadn’t hurt him at all.
Senior Olmar simply turned his head like a statue, and behind him, a woman with light blue hair giggled with a lollipop in her mouth.
She looked cheerful. She was slender, pretty, and looked like the type to be popular anywhere. She was probably also one of Delphine’s team members.
“Olmar, how could you lose! You’re the reason we failed to repress all the other teams.”
“No, I just wanted to have a conversation about hatchets……..”
Senior Olmar looked very frustrated, but the woman didn’t even pretend to listen. She just continued giggling as she patted Senior Olmar’s hard body.
Next to him, a lanky man stood, his muscles well-developed though not outwardly apparent. The scabbard at his waist confirmed my suspicions, but for some reason, his face was sunken.
“Aisha, Olmar. It’s time to go.”
“Okay, okay, Fermin. We can go right now…ah!”
The woman called ‘Aisha’, stomped over to me. As I stared at her in disbelief, she abruptly pulled the lollipop from her mouth.
Then, with a whoosh, she blew towards me. The sweet scent wafted through the air, but strangely the wind turned cold. Confused, I stumbled backwards and shook my head.
The chill in her breath penetrated my body instantly. It was freezing, and I wondered if it was payback. My hand went to my waist again.
Senior Aisha frowned out of the corner of her eye.
“That’s your prize for beating Olmar. How is it? Doesn’t the cold make you feel less tired?”
After hearing her say that, my body indeed felt lighter. I looked at Senior Aisha with some trepidation, but she merely giggled once more.
“I’m not going to tell you how it works. See you later.”
And with that, Aisha and the lanky man they called “Fermin” walked away. Olmar was silent for a moment, then shook his head as if he had no choice.
He looked at me with a glare and spoke.
“From now on…… I won’t go easy on you.”
That was probably the last of Olmar’s pride. After the three of them left, Celine rushed to my side.
But she was surprisingly unconcerned about me. I expected to hear another yell from the woman who had beaten me up after every incident.
Instead, Celine just looked fed up and punched me in the back of the head.
It hurt. A short scream burst out of my mouth.
“Ian-oppa, you really are a ‘mad dog’…….”
I turned to Seria in frustration, but she averted her gaze without a word, indicating that she had nothing to say either.
How could they treat someone who had made a great contribution by successfully defeating a member of Delphine’s team during their first encounter?
My eyes flicked to Senior Elsie, assuming she would be the only one who recognized the strategic value of the encounter.
“S-sob… Please don’t kill me. I’ll behave… s-sob, you can call me a ‘Piss Baby’…….”
I didn’t understand, but I decided to calm her down. I started with small talk.
“By the way, Senior Elsie.”
“Ye, yes! N,no… H, huh?”
Still nervous, Elsie gave a very stiff response and then quickly retracted it. However, neither I, Celine, nor Seria pointed it out.
We did it to save what little pride Elsie had left. Celine and Seria continued to groom themselves, pretending not to see me and Elsie.
“Senior Olmar mentioned he just wanted a conversation on hatchets, but do you know anything about it?”
I felt anticipation rise in my heart as Senior Elsie seemed to know something. Senior Olmar had been handling the hatchet for longer than I had, and he had obviously put in the time and effort that it deserved.
I wondered if I could find more ways to become more versatile with the hatchet. It was now my favorite weapon even if it was only a sidearm. Naturally, I was interested.
However, Senior Elsie’s answer defied my expectations in more ways than one.
“Actually, Olmar is a commoner and his father is a circus clown, so he’s been practicing tricks with the hatchet. He wants to help his father’s circus someday so he’s even joined a club…….”
I couldn’t help but break out in a cold sweat.
Senior Olmar had just wanted to show me some hatchet tricks and potentially ask for advice on what other tricks would be possible.
Only a few people were skilled with the hatchet, and so, I couldn’t help but apologize to Olmar.
I’m sorry, Olmar, but I’m sure your father would be happy no matter what you do in the future.
As Senior Elsie and I exchanged a few words, Celine asked me a question out of the blue.
“By the way, Ian-oppa, how much drinking water should we pack?”
Of course, the answer didn’t come from me. Senior Elsie, a senior with more practical experience than me, was right next to us.
Her tone was very firm. For once, she sounded a little like a senior.
“We don’t know what’s coming. Even if it’s a little heavy, we should carry extra drinking water, so we can ditch it and run away in case of emergency. Even without that, how long do you think it will take us to find the beast they released?”
She was right. The forest was vast, and I was only focused on one beast. It would take a long time to search for it.
Of course, my team members were still unaware of the real danger, but I could only hope that my warnings had prepared them for it even if only a little.
I stroked Senior Elsie’s head, and her eyes immediately glazed over.
“Good job, Senior Elsie. You finally look like a senior.”
“He, hehe… I was like this from the start!”
I was glad I had Senior Elsie in my group. I smiled bitterly and prepared to leave.
Now all that was left was the event.
“……So you forgot your canteen?”
Three hours after entering the woods, Elsie stood stiffly in front of me, her face flushed with shame.
Celine looked at her in disbelief while Seria heaved a deep sigh.
“I, I couldn’t help it! I couldn’t think straight cause you kept threatening me with t-that h-hatchet!”
Elsie spat out excuses as if it was all my fault, but it was pointless.
Once we entered the forest, we were in for a real fight. There was no excuse for a lack of preparation even if it was a mistake. It was something Professor Derek had emphasized while training us.
I shook my head and spoke.
“Then drink your pee.”
“I don’t pee! Y-you. I’m still your senior…….”
Senior Elsie clenched her fists in frustration, but she sucked in her breath as soon as I pulled back my cloak and revealed my hatchet.
My gaze turned cold as I looked at her, then spoke to her in a cold voice.
“Do you want me to fix your error with my hatchet?”
“Hiiii! I-I’m sorry, I-I won’t be bad, just let me live!”
I looked at Senior Elsie for a moment, but there was nothing I could do. I wordlessly handed her one of the canteens I’d brought as a spare.
Senior Elsie, who was shivering as she clutched her hat, stared blankly at the canteen in front of her.
Senior Elsie blushed as if embarrassed. She glanced over and caught my eye, but I was no longer paying attention to her.
Instead, as I pushed myself up, I suddenly felt a fine ‘line’ eat up my senses.
Yes, a line. Could I call it a line? It felt like my nerves were being pulled taut, calling to me.
The next moment, a strange scent hit my nostrils.
Fishy, along with the smell of iron. There was only one liquid in the world that smelled like that.
“Uh, um, wh, what?”
Elsie asked me, wiggling her fingers, and as cute as she was, my attention was elsewhere at the moment.
“Are you on your period?”
Elsie’s eyes widened at the question. So did Celine’s and Seria’s. It was a rude question. One I wouldn’t have asked under normal circumstances.
But right now, I had no choice but to ask. Senior Elsie blushed bright red, and when she couldn’t take it anymore, she shouted.
“You…… you crazy bastard!”
Interpreting the shout as a no, I redirected the question.
“Celine and Seria, how about you?”
Celine gave me a look of disbelief, but Seria blushed unexpectedly and hung her head.
Celine giggled ominously and then turned to me.
“Ian-oppa, is your head okay from earlier?”
But despite her repeated questions, my question was insistent. Seria stammered, unable to answer, until finally, her ears turning bright red, she opened her mouth.
It was more of a whimper than a word, but a whimper nonetheless.
“……Ah, no, heh, uh… no.”
I see, I muttered to myself, astonished.
Celine, who had just realized that I wasn’t being my usual self, sent me a questioning glance, but I responded verbally.
“Get ready, then. Something’s about to happen.”
I spoke through clenched teeth, hoping to hell that the smell wasn’t human blood.
Beasts were past that clearing. Or maybe, other hunters were.
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