༺ The Lord Is With Us (8) ༻
Dusk began to settle in as the sun started to set.
The woods south of the Academy became quiet as the commotion of the hunting festival was quickly forgotten.
Not so long ago, it had been in an uproar. Outside of the festivities, there was also the discovery of a named beast they had recently dubbed the “Gut Collector.”
Despite having no casualties, the Academy was still concerned and immediately organized an investigation that resulted in the forest becoming rife with the activity of dozens of investigators.
But now that the sun was setting, it changed drastically.
According to mythology, the sun was made from the liver of Arus, causing anything unnatural and unholy to weaken when it came into contact with sunlight, Naturally, demonic beasts, as mana-borne existences, were no exception.
On the other hand, when the sun set and darkness enveloped the earth, that was when the evil god Omeros controlled the world. This was when demonic beasts were at their strongest. Even then, the Heavenly God Arus kept vigil through his right eye, the moon. However, there were still areas the moon could not reach and the darkness enveloped those lands.
As such, there was no telling what dangers still lurked in the forest, and the investigation team was forced to withdraw when it turned nighttime.
And yet, in an isolated area where only the faint sounds of birds and grasshoppers could be heard, two people stood face to face.
It was a woman with brilliant golden hair that resembled the sun, and standing opposite of her was a man with hair as black as the night.
They were completely alone in the forest glade.
One might think it was a romantic rendezvous between a couple, but the atmosphere was too chilling for that to be the case.
The woman with golden hair, Delphine, chewed on her lip as she glared at her adversary.
On the other hand, the man was ever so calm with eyes mired in weariness and an expression devoid of any emotion.
She found it unsettling.
She spat her words at him, breaking the silence.
“……It’s been a long time, Hatchet Lord.”
‘Ian’ didn’t return her greeting. His eyes flicked away disinterestedly before turning back towards her.
His response was but a word long and his voice conveyed his weariness. However, that short word carried many implications.
First, she had been the one to call him out.
Secondly, the look of annoyance on his face conveyed his reluctance to be here, but she’d given him a good enough reason to come.
Her crimson eyes glowed with bloodlust as she spoke.
“As I’ve already said, I’m asking for a rematch.”
“Using the ‘Yurdina’ name to pressure me into accepting?”
He taunted her with a mocking voice, and she felt a shudder run through her as she closed her eyes.
It was true. Delphine had brought Ian here by force, invoking the power behind the ‘Yurdina’ name to force him here. It was dishonorable and she could feel her cheeks flare up.
The man didn’t seem to be in the mood to spare her feelings and twisted the verbal knife deeper.
“It was a childish move.”
“I don’t have a choice!”
Delphine couldn’t take it anymore and launched into a tirade, trying to justify her cowardly behavior.
Her eyes opened wide with the pain she’d been through as her voice carried a hint of desperation.
Placing a hand on her chest, she poured out her emotions.
“Ju-just lying down brings back memories of that day. I try to sleep, but I wake up drenched in cold sweat. I feel like there’s a fire burning in my chest, and no matter how much water I drink, it just won’t go out. What else am I supposed to do?”
“You should accept it. That’s your duty as the loser.”
Faced with the man’s brusque comment, Delphine ground her teeth together as her eyes burned with ferocity.
“Did you enjoy it when I was begging for my life?”
“I don’t know nor do I care.”
The man’s voice was flat without even a flicker of change within those golden eyes.
He meant every word that came from his mouth.
And the realization that the man responsible for her sleepless nights full of nightmares didn’t even consider their battle worth remembering infuriated her all the more.
If she had simply surrendered and walked away, she wouldn’t have felt so humiliated.
But she had wounded her pride by begging for mercy like some back-alley wench.
Her ego had been unable to cope with that.
“……This time, I’m not going to beg for my life.”
The determination in her voice didn’t faze Ian’s expression in the slightest as he kept an air of complete indifference.
He just quietly questioned her.
“Why should I fight you at all? If you win so childishly, won’t it only hurt your pride?”
“Whether it’s childish or not, a victory is a victory.”
She moved her hands to her waist, signaling her readiness to fight.
This was the nature of Delphine Yurdina.
She would do anything to win. It didn’t matter if it was cowardly, just as long as she won. Such was her obsession with victory and what drove her life.
And although she was greatly shocked at her first defeat, more than anything, she couldn’t stand the fact that she had begged for her life.
She preferred death over such humiliation. This duel was the culmination of a long internal struggle.
She pushed aside her embarrassment, knowing that she was past the point of no return.
Shaking his head, Ian asked one more question.
“To the death, then?”
“Of course, I’d rather die than live with this disgrace.”
It was an irresponsible thing to say as the heiress to a noble house, but as the words left her mouth, Ian uncrossed his arms and slid his hands towards his waist.
His posture was completely relaxed. Not a single muscle was tense and his eyes were calm, almost as if he was merely going on a walk.
Even so, Delphine’s body tensed up. She thought back to the Sword Circle techniques that Ian had shown so far.
His stance did not matter — He was capable of delivering a fatal blow from any position.
She felt her senses sharpening against the formidable opponent.
Her opponent was guaranteed to be a significant challenge, especially if he’d taken the Dragon’s Blood elixir he’d received for winning the Hunt.
But even so, she believed he was no match for her in one-on-one combat.
Previously, she’d been caught by surprise, and even then, Ian had barely managed to grasp victory.
Objectively, he was no match for her.
That was why she had used her family’s name to demand a rematch.
It was a childish and cheap ploy, brought about by a woman on the verge of insanity.
There was nothing she wouldn’t do.
She was willing to do anything if it meant her victory.
Tension hung in the silent glade. Crimson eyes met gold as they observed each other’s movements.
Then, after a brief silence, their duel began.
The air exploded.
With her feet firmly planted, Delphine reinforced her body with mana before shooting off the ground. Space rippled and the air howled as she cut through them to reach Ian in a flash.
A brilliant golden aura condensed on her sword, accompanied by a searing heat that distorted her surroundings.
And then, she swung.
Space itself warped, unable to resist the speed and heat of her swing. Soon, the acrid smell of burning dirt tickled her nose.
And yet, she hadn’t felt the attack connecting.
Her eyes darted around, chasing after the man who should have fallen under her fiery blade.
It didn’t take long for her to find him. He was rushing towards her with his blade drawn after evading her strike — With the ferocity and speed of a wild beast.
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