“—I challenge you to a duel.”
Kei became speechless from Alexei’s sudden declaration.
He fought many 1vs1 duels inside the game — but this was a first for him in real life.
“What would your reply be?”
Alexei asked very courteously with his sword thrust out in front of him. Given his attitude, this could hardly be a joke.
Kei stood still, looking bewildered, but Alexei kept up his firm expression. Still, seeing how one of them pointed a blade at the other, the merchants and villagers seemed to guess the situation and started to noisily gather around the two.
“What’s going on?”
“Looks like a duel between love rivals.”
“Oh, maddened by love, huh?”
The onlookers whispered to each other. Despite feeling extremely awkward from being exposed to their gazes, Kei still asked, “A duel?”
Alexei gave a firm nod while squarely meeting Kei’s eyes.
“Why all of a sudden?”
“For you are my rival in love.”
Alexei’s high-handed attitude told Kei that further words would be wasted here, causing him to be at his wits’ end.
“Ahh, it’s come out, the Snowlander’s bad habit…!”
Dagmar spoke while holding his head as if enduring a headache.
“…Bad habit, you say?”
“I mean, the thing with the duels! Whenever there’s trouble, they duel! They duel over love affairs! And they even duel at the bark of a dog!” He answered while looking up to the sky in exasperation. “They try to solve literally everything with brute strength. And it’s love matters that make them go completely haywire. The Snowlanders allow polygamy, adhering to the principle of a strong man has to take a good wife. They even approve of marriage by abduction based on a duel. Whenever they find a good woman, they start scrambling for the husband’s seat each and every single time.”
“I-I see…” Kei spiritlessly commented Dagmar’s explanation.
Being a romanticist when it came to love, Kei could not wrap his head around their way of doing things.
“…Still, what would be the point? Even if we duke it out, it’d still be Aileen’s decision to make in the end, wouldn’t it?”
Even if a completely unrelated man won, how would that affect the woman’s feelings? Or did the Snowlanders simply disregard how the woman in question felt about the matter? Kei voiced his doubt with a frown.
Hearing that, Alexei relaxed on his polite attitude for the first time since the challenge and shrugged in response, as if declaring that Kei was merely stating the obvious.
“But even a love of a hundred years would turn sour, if the man the woman loves gets pathetically beaten up in front of her eyes, right?”
He responded jokingly, a faint smile on his lips, yet his eyes gleamed with maliciousness.
Silently, and faintly, the corners of Kei’s mouth rose up into a vague smile. It was clear what Alexei meant, seeing how he had declared it right into Kei’s face.
Kei told himself to stay calm and not go along with that cheap provocation, but he could not stop a muddy feeling spreading throughout his chest. Kei was by no means a quarrelsome person, but this time Alexei had gone too far. Kei could not stomach Alexei’s flippant attitude, his arrogant confidence that he would come out as the winner anyway, and his presumptuousness of treating Aileen like some kind of prize.
——As a matter of fact, I couldn’t stand this guy from the very start anyway.
He remembered the phrase irreconcilable enemy.
He momentarily closed his eyes — and his expression deepened even more as he finally cast away his hesitation to harbor ill will.
Both men had smiles on their faces, but each meant something else.
Facing each other in silence.
The atmosphere between them suddenly turned cold.
It felt like the morning mist billowing through the air was about to freeze.
The curious onlookers, who had initially surrounded them half in jest, could not speak up any longer because of the chilling sensation creeping up from under their feet, and merely stood still as they watched on with bated breaths.
“…W-Well, that’s just a snowland custom. You… right, not sure if you’re from Grasslander, Kei, but the point is that you aren’t from the snowlands, right? We aren’t in the north now, so there’s no need to accept that duel—” Dagmar wedged himself between the two with a faint smile. “There’s no merit in it for you, even if you were to accept the duel, nor is there a need to—”
“Right, there is no need to accept it.” Alexei interjected, standing with his arms folded while playing around with his dagger on his fingertip. “If we were in the north right, you’d be branded a coward if you ran from a duel. But you’re no Snowlander, and you’re a hero that took down the Grande Urs with one arrow… Even if you reject this duel, no one would call you a coward.”
Kei’s eyebrow twitched. Alexei’s sonorous words felt somewhat ironic to him.
“—Therefore, I will add some conditions for my side.” Alexei said and raised three of his fingers.
“First. I will only use a sword and shield.”
He first put a limit on his specialised weapon.
“Second. We will start this battle 50 steps apart.”
On top of it, he gave up his attack distance. Moreover…
“Third. You can use whatever weapon you want. You can use a sword, or the bow you specialise in, it’s up to you.”
Alexei’s declaration, accompanied by a fearless smile, caused the crowd to stir. The merchants who had personally witnessed the might of Kei’s bow were particularly bewildered, muttering that it was too reckless.
“…Looks like I’m being underestimated here. I won’t be able to hold back with the bow.”
Those words unconsciously slipped out of Kei’s mouth.
Due to Kei’s mutter holding the aggressive implication of ‘What if my hand slips’, Alexei responded by throwing his hands up.
“It’d be too disadvantageous for you if it was close combat. And there would be no fun in winning against an archer in a sword fight. There is no point unless I crush your everything head on. Besides,” his smile suddenly turned ferocious, “it’d be a pain if you started to complain that it all would have turned out differently if you had used a bow after the battle. I have to remove any grounds for excuses.”
“…Quite a confidence you have there.”
“Of course. Your skill with the bow is certainly threatening. But the Snowland warriors are only considered full-fledged once they master every weapon type including the sword, shield, bow, spear and ax. And I’ll teach you why I chose to go with sword and shield from among all those choices.”
“Heh. I look forward to that. But… I don’t know whether those are your favorite sword and shield, but I hope you won’t complain if they get broken?”
“Haha. Can I take this as you accepting the duel?”
He asked in pure bliss — his expression was already like that of a beast. Being asked, Kei used the opportunity to weigh the risks and gains once more in his mind.
The returns were too light, practically nonexistent — and yet the scales still tilted towards that side.
He clearly understood that there were no merits in accepting this duel.
It was actually a very irritating situation. If he denied it, Alexei would most likely pull back. But in return, Kei’s honor would take damage. If he accepted it, however, he would just be doing what Alexei wanted. Just the fact that he was dancing on his palm pissed Kei off.
If he was going to end up pissed off either way, it would probably be better to choose the side where he could punch him to his heart’s content.
Kei pondered with clear, yet heated emotions in his heart. If he did not accept it after all these provocations, it would sully his pride as a man.
Besides, I’m a hunter.
Kei had decided to become a successful hunter. Not a simple huntsman, but a big game hunter that could take on monsters on the level of a Grande Urs.
—If so, how could he not put down this mad dog that was right in front of his eyes?
“—Hooold it right theeeere!!”
Just as Kei made up his mind and was about to answer, a yell came from the bystanders with Holland rushing over with loud footsteps.
“A duel!? I can’t have you decide something like that without consulting me, the person in charge!”
Holland barked with a tone teeming with blame. The brunt of his anger seemed to be directed at Alexei.
“This is between us two. It doesn’t concern you.”
“Like hell it doesn’t concern me! I am responsible for this caravan, and he’s a hired escort! He still has work to do, even if only for half a day!”
“Another half a day is a problem for me too. It would be difficult to fight later if I let this chance go.”
Alexei responded without showing any care towards Holland’s anger.
If the caravan kept heading north, they would be reaching the outskirts of Stronghold City Urvan within half a day. But the escort mission formally lasted until they reached the urban areas, so Alexei might be worried that it would be difficult to find a suitable location for a duel, even if he challenged Kei to one.
On the other hand, the pioneer village was relatively safe since it was close to urban areas, and it wasn’t hard to find an open field. Considering the conditions Alexei had mentioned before, it would certainly be better to hold the duel here. It was possible for them to head outside once they reached Urvan and fight there, but whether Kei would bother going that far for this duel was another problem.
“Even if his health should get in the way of his work after the duel, I’ll take on the escort role in his stead. Naturally, for free.”
Holland tried to argue back, but Alexei only scratched his head and turned around while looking as if it was a pain to deal with this.
“Even if something else happens, I swear by my ancestor, Alexander’s name, that I will take full responsibility.”
Hearing his oath with the blade held up, Holland’s eyes darted around with his expression showing how troubled he was.
“…Hey, Dagmar, what do you think about this?”
“…Don’t throw the problem at me.” Dagmar responded with a bitter face. “Honestly, if both sides agree, I’d tell them to go and get it over with quickly… Troubles over not following proper procedures is much more of a pain to deal with.”
Dagmar glanced at Alexei and Pierre with reproachful eyes. Alexei feigned ignorance, while Pierre, who was in the crowd of onlookers, awkwardly averted his eyes.
“…Dagmar, I would like your opinion as the mediator for the escorts.”
“Hmm. Well, leaving this muscle-brain aside, the problem is Kei. Setting aside if something like the “Grande Urs” from yesterday shows up… I’d say there would be no problems even if we omit Kei. We worked in a team of six people from the start, and we have the little princess Aileen’s magic as backup in the worst case too.”
“I see… You two, there would be no accidental deaths, right?”
He looked somewhat suspiciously at Kei and Alexei while brushing his beard.
The two men in question responded with an eerie silence.
“You can’t be serious… There’s no way I’ll be able to allow it then.”
“I’ll be careful.”
“I’ll take the proper measures.”
The two quickly responded.
“Good grief,” Holland scratched his head. “Do whatever you want,” he added with a sigh.
“Then, once again…”
Alexei turned towards Kei in good humor.
“I challenge you to a duel.”
“Very well, I accept.”
With his dignified declaration, the audience stirred and Alexei nodded in satisfaction.
“Good. I suspect the conditions I mentioned earlier work for you? As for the place—”
“Mgghh, can’t you be a bit more quiet?”
Suddenly, the tent rustled behind Kei. Turning around, he saw Aileen coming out while rubbing her eyes.
In front of her were Kei and Alexei facing each other, surrounded by a crowd. She blinked her eyes in confusion, noticing the strange atmosphere.
“…What’s going on?”
Receiving her inquisitive gaze, “Hmm,” Kei pondered. “Sorry, but we decided to have a bit of a duel in regards to you.”
Of course, Aileen was against it.
“What the hell, dude!? D-Dueling over m-m-me is just ridiculous…!”
Inside the tent they had borrowed from the villagers, Kei received a barrage of complaints from Aileen. She herself was in a terrible mess, making it hard to tell whether she was actually angry or embarrassed.
“Good lord! Deciding something so important without me! You have to consider my feelings on the matter, you know!? B-Besides… even without doing something like that, at this point…”
Aileen blushed, fiddling with her fingertips as she started to get embarrassed all by herself, but Kei responded while putting on his clattering chain mail with a serious expression.
“Sorry. But I couldn’t hold back after being provoked so much.”
Kei apologized to Aileen while tying the sword to his belt, a tinge of regret in his tone. The caravan’s departure got delayed due to their duel, causing trouble to a lot of people including her.
Now that some time had passed, allowing his head to cool down, he started to believe that ignoring Alexei then and there would have been the adult way of handling things.
But at the same time, he remembered Dagmar’s words that “troubles over not following proper procedures is much more of a pain to deal with.”
What would happen in the unlikely event of Alexei resorting to violence? He was so troublesome to deal with because Kei could not confidently say that it would never happen. Aileen had high-level defensive skills, so it might not be so simple to kidnap her, but it was hard to tell what could happen in the process…
Shit, so it’s all his fault!
Kei affixed his leather armor in irritation, and put his gloves on.
Meanwhile, Aileen lowered her eyes at the quiver and scabbard at his waist, and asked with a look full of worry, “…It’s going to be a serious fight?”
“Yes, that’s how it turned out.”
“So you won’t reconsider, after all?”
“Well, I thought about that too, but…” Kei paused, “I doubt that guy would listen to me.”
“Shit, it’s all his fault!” Donning an expression of conviction, Aileen reached the same conclusion Kei had arrived at before.
“Kei…please…make sure to not get injured…”
“Don’t worry. I’m more concerned about how not to injure him.”
He smiled back cynically while putting on his leather helmet.
—It’ll be really difficult to hold back when using my bow.
While Kei wanted to win the duel, he did not want to kill Alexei in the process. On the other hand, he predicted that half-hearted attacks would not be able to stop him either.
But if he shot a properly charged shot, it would end up being fatal.
And lastly, the most important part — he did not want to waste one of the few remaining potions on the likes of Alexei.
“For real, what a pain.” Kei joked and shrugged his shoulders while tying the string of his face mask near his throat as a finisher.
And yet, Aileen’s anxiety still remained. Kei, who combed her glossy but dishevelled blond hair down, gently declared, so as to give her a peace of mind, “I won’t lose to a swordsman with a bow. Anyway, I don’t want to make people wait for me too long. I’ll head out in a whiff and wrap this up in whiff.”
After inspecting his equipment to find it having no problems, he left the tent with Aileen.
Their destination was the riverside outside of the village. They had chosen the riverside as location for their duel as it satisfied both conditions: a 50-step straight distance, as well as good footing.
When they arrived there, almost everyone from the caravan was there, along with so many villagers that he did not know where they had even come from. Seeing the battle-ready Kei with the chain mail and leather armor, and a strange, vermilion composite bow in his hand, the villagers, who were already drinking together, became even more excited.
“Yooo, lady-killer, a bit late, aren’t ya!?”
Came a familiar husky voice. Looking towards its source, he found Dagmar waving at him with a flushed face. He had spread out his mantle on the ground, and was now sitting on it while enjoying wine with the villagers.
“I made you wait, I suppose.” Even as he smiled wryly, seeing how Dagmar was apparently drinking again, Kei let his eyes wander to the left and right, searching for the blonde youth among the gathered on-lookers.
“…Where is he?”
“Not here yet. Relax, you came first!”
Kei smiled while relaxing his shoulders a bit. At the same time, he realized how he was somewhat tense himself.
“Come now! A duel of the century is going to start anytime soon now!”
At the centre of the crowd, Holland raised his voice with a bowl in each hand.
“On one side, we have a Snowland warrior known for their dauntless courage – the experienced warrior, Alexei! On the other side, a foreign hunter who took down the gigantic, tyrannical “Grande Urs” with only one arrow, Kei! Their manly prides will clash to seize the favor of a peerless beauty! Now, whom will the goddess of victory smile at! Who are you going to bet on!? Who will it be!?”
As it turned out, he had been scheming to run the betting. Stirred by his searing speech, the audience started to throw coins into the bowls and took the wooden tickets at his feet. Holland was not all that happy about this duel, but now that it had been decided on, he went on the offensive.
“As expected of him,” chuckled Aileen, luring Kei into a wry smile of his own.
“Oh, is that the rumored girl…? She’s definitely a beauty.”
“I can see why they’d fight over her.”
“Her long blond hair looks so pretty.”
“So, that guy in leather armor is the one who took down the “Grande Urs”?
“And I heard he did it with just one shot of a bow.”
Probably because he had relaxed a bit, Kei started to hear fragments of the words being said within the chaotic hustle and bustle. ‘A beauty, huh,’ Kei nonchalantly glanced at Aileen at his side. But as Aileen looked at him in the same moment, their eyes met by chance, causing them to reflexively avert their eyes.
An awkward silence was born between them.
This time, Edda showed up together with Heidemarie. She was squirming and fidgeting — somehow different from her usual simplicity.
Kei greeted her, but did not know what else to say. Next to him, Aileen was in the same situation, and thus limited it to a vague smile.
“…Are you going to duel?”
“With big sis on the stake?”
“Ugh… I guess you could put it like that.” Kei answered with a fairly glum face.
Edda only muttered a dejected, “…I see,” in response.
Her black eyes darted back and forth between Kei and Aileen. Her expression was strange, bearing both sadness and confusion.
“…You have to do your best. You can’t lose!”
In the end, she showed an awkward smile, whirled around, and ran off without waiting for Kei’s answer.
“Good grief, that girl…” Heidemarie chuckled while rubbing her bent back. “Now, Kei. You’re still a young lad as well, so try to not get injured too badly. Be careful, you hear?”
Keeping it at only that, Heidemarie slowly walked after Edda.
“…What was that about?”
Kei and Aileen looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders.
“Still, even a small child like Edda has come to watch us?”
“Yeah, well, I’m also worried about how it’s going to affect her upbringing.”
“Maybe it’s considered normal in this world…”
“Perhaps. It’s a quite dangerous world, after all.”
They chatted with each other, bit by bit, about pointless topics so as to distract themselves. Pretending to not notice how everyone was focusing their eyes on them, they merely waited for time to pass.
“Sorry for the wait.”
At last Alexei showed up from the village’s direction.
He entered the stage with Pierre, just as heavily armed as Kei. A metal-plated leather armor and a metallic helmet polished so much that it sparkled in the sun. His gauntlets and greaves were made out of the same whitish metal as his helmet, and had a wolf-like animal ornament engraved on them. That said, given that both items had seen a lot of use, the engravings had become indistinguishable as they had been mostly destroyed thanks to the countless, fine scratches and cuts on them.
On his upper left arm was a roundish metallic buckler with a diameter of around 30 cm. This seemed to be yet another quite worn-out item — which must have saved its owner many times — with several sword cuts running across its surface.
And, in his right hand, Alexei held his sword. That sword, which he easily shouldered and gathered a lot of attention, could be described with one word — greatsword.
It was a giant, single-edged sword as long as Alexei, who had a great physique that didn’t lose out to Kei’s, was tall. It had a longish hilt to make the swinging easier, and a blade with a gentle arc that curved backwards. Coupled with it being single-edged, Kei could not help but associate it with a Japanese Odachi.
“Where did you hide that thing?”
Faking a carefree smile, Alexei answered Kei’s reflexive question, “Well it’s a pain to carry it out, so I had it stored in Sir Pierre’s carriage.”
He tapped Pierre’s back with his left hand. He might have planned for it to be a light tap, but the blow proved to be heavier than he had expected, making the slender Pierre tumble forward.
“Gugh! Ouch! That hurts, Alexei!”
“Ah, sorry about that.” Alexei dodged Pierre’s reproachful gaze by smiling and scratching his head.
“Now then, Aileen. Watch how I’m going to win your heart with this duel.”
He faced Aileen at Kei’s side with a refreshing smile. In response, Aileen’s face distorted into disgust as she replied, “Shut up! Just go get yourself beaten up like you deserve!”
In front of Kei, Aileen hurled insults at Alexei which weren’t all that ingenious but still lacked any forgiveness. With a clearly disturbing light in his eyes, Alexei twisted his lips into a smile and licked them.
“…Oh, how irresistable.” He carelessly swung the greatsword in his right hand down while revealing a frivolous smile.
There was a few steps of distance between them. The blade caused a gale as it blurred, then came to a sudden stop.
The onlookers, who had been chatting, all became silent.
Perhaps he did that as a demonstration.
The dull sound of the wind being cut was proof of how heavy that deadly weapon was. Swinging it with one hand and stopping the blade precisely gave graphic account to the perfection of its user’s abilities, and that the giant blade was not for mere show.
“Did you understand what I meant?” Alexei sneered full of confidence. “There is a difference when it comes to the quality of specialised weapons. You can’t even exchange blows with a dull-looking thing like that.”
He said while setting the greatsword on his shoulder once again and looking at the longsword at Kei’s waist.
Kei sighed and responded, “I’m not planning to back out this late in the game. There’s no point in trying to provoke me so much.”
As Kei’s eyes turned chilly and calm while he put on his mask, Alexei erased his expression as well, nodded, and merely answered, “I see.”
An unbearable silence dominated the place.
On one side was Kei, his expression hidden behind his mask, and on the other was Alexei, who didn’t even take any notice of Aileen anymore. Having stopped talking, their looks clashed, and repelled each other, as only an eerie stillness oozed out of them.
“Are both of you ready?” Holland, who apparently approached them unnoticed, asked them with a somewhat tired look.
They replied curtly.
“Alright. Then fight with all your might so you have no regrets.”
Hearing Holland’s words, Alexei glanced at Kei one more time and wordlessly pulled down the visor of his helmet. Hidden inside the visor, his blue eyes pierced straight at Kei through the visor’s gaps. As Alexei turned around, the crow split into two to give way for the fifty step distance. While looking at his back, Kei – keeping his silence as well – slowly removed the cover of his quiver.
Aileen put her hand on Kei’s left arm while biting her lip.
“Don’t worry.” Kei formed a smile as gentle as possible underneath his mask and gently placed his hand on hers. “I don’t plan to lose. Believe in me.”
Aileen, with an uneasy, miserable expression, tightly grasped his hand a last time and withdrew to the front row of the onlookers.
Removing his gaze from Aileen, Kei switched his thoughts.
Fifty steps of distance.
It was a bit over 40 meters if you were to measure it.
By no means a big distance, Kei thought. Alexei could probably cover it in seconds if he was serious about it. While thinking about the tactic he was going to use, Kei lightly pulled the string of Dragon Stinger.
His ear lobes trembled from the pleasant whoosh it made.
He had originally planned to first destroy his shield to break his fighting spirit, before beating him up while making sure to not cause any lasting injuries. But after seeing that buckler, Kei reassessed since he was convinced that it would be hard to pierce through it.
Generally, small shields like bucklers were considered weak against projectile weapons due to their coverage area being limited. But seeing how worn-out from use it was, Alexei should be fairly skilled in using the buckler. Kei imagined that his first few arrows would be either dodged or repelled — in short, neutralized.
Now, how should I “defeat” him…
While using his right hand to toy around with an arrow inside his quiver, he carefully elaborated his tactic. Even if Kei planned to kill him, Alexei did not seem like someone who would easily go down, and for that very reason, Kei could kill him if he wasn’t careful. After all, Kei could not afford to hold back, so he came to the conclusion that Alexei should be prepared to pay the price, even if it meant suffering lasting injuries.
Ahead of him, Alexei turned around after taking exactly fifty steps.
As his greatsword rested on his right shoulder, he put his left hand on its long hilt. He held it with both hands, and the buckler that was on his left arm was positioned so that it would cover his body. He lowered his posture and leaned his upper half slightly forward, teeming with an aura that clearly depicted his eager willingness.
…It feels like Jigen-ryuu.
One swing was enough. He would deliver a single, fast blow. There was such simple yet strong will coming from him. Kei could keenly sense it, even across this distance, his fighting spirit that was on the verge of erupting, and his bulging muscles that were grinding and creaking.
“Both parties… seem to be ready.”
Holland stood between the two. He took their silence as consent and nodded.
“Well then, like I said earlier, fight without any regrets. Use your full strength so that there won’t be any reasons for grudges in the future, but make sure to not overdo it. If I judge the duel impossible to continue because of injury, I—”
“No long-winded speeches.” Alexei’s cold voice silenced Holland. “This is between the two of us. Stay out of it.”
Suddenly, Alexei’s previous words crossed Kei’s mind. Kei did not say anything back then, but now, for the first time, he felt like he could understand where Alexei was coming from.
Alexei’s lips, the only visible part of his face, twisted into a smile, “Now, let’s begin.”
“…Yeah.” Kei nodded.
He then pulled an arrow out of his quiver.
And pulled the string.
No more words were needed.
They both moved at the same time.
Alexei kicked off the ground, accelerating explosively fast.
With just a few steps, he reached his maximum speed.
While kicking up some dust, he made a beeline for Kei.
Kei started with a test.
He immediately released his arrow to intercept.
It tore through the wind with a howl.
The white-feathered arrow flew straight at Alexei, aiming for the center of his body.
However, Alexei composedly evaded it by twisting his body.
As expected, he saw through the first attack, Kei calmly analyzed.
Next, he shot a second arrow.
This time, Alexei could not avoid it, or perhaps did not want to waste his time on evasion. He easily repelled it with his buckler. With a dull thud and sparks, the arrow got flung elsewhere. Just as Kei had thought, normal attacks would not be able to pierce that shield.
Next, he pulled out three arrows at once.
He nocked, pulled, and released. At that moment, Kei transformed into a precision machine.
Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, a series of satisfying sounds and silver flashes left his strongbow. His lightning speed stirred the crowd. At the same time, it was a skilled chain attack that adjusted the degree of bloodlust. By intentionally putting partial bloodlust into them, he led the enemy’s sense of distance astray. The mercenary escorts shuddered at this exquisite display of skill that made evasion difficult.
That said, his opponent was no ordinary man either.
He predicted the trajectories of all arrows, and adopted the best countermeasure for each. He stopped one with his shield, one with his sword, and one with his shin guard. Accompanied by flashy sparks, shrill metallic sounds reverberated. Still, none of the arrows managed to wound him.
He had already closed the distance by roughly thirty steps. Alexei’s smile deepened even further. He was convinced that Kei would have no chance to win if he failed to wrap it up within the next twenty steps.
I guess it’s impossible to pierce it with normal arrows after all.
Kei silently analyzed. He did not hold back at all. Every arrow he released was fatal. Enough to easily pierce through metal plating. Even so, Alexei’s armor managed to withstand it. He did not know what kind of alloy that whitish metal used, but it was clearly of fine quality.
So an ordinary arrow won’t be enough…
—Then, it’s time to switch to a suitable one.
Kei reached into his quiver.
And pulled out — a blue-feathered arrow.
Aileen who watched from the side gasped in shock.
The arrow that put an end to even “Grande Urs” with one shot.
Is he planning to use it against a human in a duel? She wondered.
Kei nocked that arrow.
Less than ten steps of distance remained between the two.
Alexei was right in front of Kei’s eyes. With a ferocious smile — a mad dog raging in an eerie silence, ready to bite his prey to death. His light blue eyes gleaming through the gaps of his visor were seething with bloodthirst.
In contrast, Kei slightly narrowed his eyes, drew the bowstring, and muttered, “Don’t die on me now.”
—Then came a roar.
The silver flash that was let loose with tremendous force flew straight at Alexei without any tricks. It was too fast to see properly, but since it was heading directly at him, it was easy enough to see through it.
Alexei’s smile turned even belligerent, and just as he had already prepared beforehand, he confidently met it with his shield.
Crack! A bizarre sound was audible.
And the arrow…
…pierced through the center of his shield.
Its round surface caved-in miserably, and the arrow tore through the arm behind it. But, it did not stop at that. It plunged onwards, drilling through his armor plate and leather, and finally stopped once it pierced his chest.
Taking such a strong hit, the air driven out of his lungs turned into an inevitable groan, and his body, devoid of strength, started to stagger.
Before Kei could nock another arrow.
Alexei burst into a smile.
He clearly laughed while vomiting blood.
His arms, his back, gained strength once again.
His mouth twisted up — into a gruesome smile.
A beast? Nay.
A lunatic? Nay.
He was a demon. A true demon. With the face of a murderer who had gone into a delirium of bloodlust.
Alexei readied his sword again.
Putting strength in both his arms.
Then followed an optical illusion of his body swelling up, like a heat haze…
And he howled.
A tempest of bloodthirst covered the entire area.
Kei broke into cold sweat all over his body.
Alexei lowered his posture even further — and in the next moment, the atmosphere distorted.
The ground under his feet got blown away as if it had exploded.
The distance between them became nonexistent in but an instant.
His shining greatsword was swung down.
It approached Kei with an ominous buzzing.
It was an attack that bet everything. An attack far too heavy.
Kei’s very soul shivered by the bloodthirst poured into that one strike, making him feel as if the world had turned upside down.
He had no time to feel astonished or scared.
Almost reflexively, Kei drew his sword, holding it above his head after the steel blade slipped out of its scabbard.
And parried it. No, attempted to parry it.
However — within this moment when the time flowed strangely slow — Kei saw it.
Alexei’s greatsword slamming into the sword in his right hand.
The blade trembled all over.
And the greatsword—sunk into it.
Before Kei’s astonished eyes, his longsword got smashed with a flashy sound.
Let alone blocking it, it could not even ward it off…
Albeit it managed to change its trajectory by a little, the greatsword still rushed at Kei as it roared.
The white blade instantly sliced the stop part of Kei’s helmet.
Then cut through the leather shoulder reinforcement.
And landed on his chain mail over his left shoulder.
With this blow, Kei would lose his left arm—
Within his accelerated thoughts, Alexei was convinced of his victory.
Until his blade stopped alongside the sound of an impact.
It was a bizarre feedback. His sword had been stopped. When he saw the cause, Alexei opened his eyes wide in shock.
—There was a vermillion bow releasing a bizarre oppressive aura.
Dragon Stinger held in Kei’s hand had stopped his greatsword with its handle. Neither breaking, nor getting cut, but merely denting a little…
Impossible! Alexei halted as if thunderstruck.
How could it stop a blow that shattered even a steel longsword—!!?
How could a normal bow stop it?
But, Dragon Stinger was no normal bow.
The wing tendon and membrane of a Wyvern, and the crossarm of an Elder Treant.
It was a masterpiece among masterpieces, created by processing materials, which were very precious by themselves, through a special method.
In particular, the handle had several layers of the membrane coiled around it, so it was by far the toughest part of the entire bow. It was no exaggeration to say that its durability exceeded anything Kei possessed at present.
“You said there was a difference in quality between specialized weapons, didn’t you?”
Kei growled. He clutched his right hand into a fist along with the hilt he held in it.
He glared right into Alexei’s eyes and yelled.
“—It’s just as you say!”
He roared, driving his right uppercut into Alexei’s defenseless lower jaw.
With a blow that reverberated all the way to his abdomen, Alexei’s body was flung into the air.
Kei tried to follow up with an elbow strike, but despite staggering, Alexei swung his left arm.
The arrow stuck in the buckler on top of it clawed Kei’s face. He momentarily winced at the stabbing pain, but this instant was enough time for Alexei to fix his posture.
With another fighting yell, he thrust his greatsword forward.
Blood flowed from his cut mouth, but his thrust was still sharp and held more than enough power.
However — his decision to go with a thrust was wrong. Perhaps it would have been more effective against Kei to go with a power-driven slash.
Guided by the swordsmanship skills he had learned, Kei slammed the remainder of his broken blade sideways into Alexei’s sword, and charged as his blade scattered sparks while it slid across Alexei’s greatsword.
Alexei remembered having seen those moves before. On the day when he witnessed Kei training on his own at the riverside.
The broken sword — he’s using it in place of a short sword — so he’s aiming for my neck!
Using what he saw on that day as a reference, Alexei anticipated Kei’s next move. He was convinced that Kei would be going into hand-to-hand combat while using his blade as a short sword, now that he had sealed off the greatsword’s attacks.
However, Alexei was unaware of one fact.
That Kei’s all-purpose swordsmanship also contained a section about unarmed hand-to-hand combat for times when the sword could not be used any longer.
Alexei did not know.
That he had missed his chance to see it because he chose to interrupt Kei on that day…
Kei’s right hand that held the sword hilt suddenly bent lightly.
And with a swing of his wrist, he threw the broken sword at Alexei’s face.
Alexei was momentarily taken by surprise by the spinning blade rushing at him, but he instantly head-butted it and succeeded in flicking it away with his helmet.
But for an instant, his attention had been distracted.
Using that moment, Kei seized Alexei’s right arm with his now-empty right hand.
And then — pulled it with all his might.
Alexei had already been leaning forward due to his thrust, resulting in his balance now falling apart altogether. He immediately tried to brace his legs, but Kei, who had bent down, swiped his feet.
Fatally — indeed, Alexei’s body slanted to a fatal degree. Then, Kei put strength into his abdomen…
And with all his strength, tossed Alexei away.
It was far too tremendous to call it a shoulder throw.
Alexei felt the world spinning.
Just what was happening with him? As he listened to the whistling sound of the wind, his mind tried to grasp his current situation. But ignoring that, Alexei remembered something that happened during days long past. A memory of taking the brunt of a pig’s charge and getting flung away.
Back then, the world spinned around in the same way as now, didn’t it?
Such silly thought passed through his mind…
But with the dreadful impact that hit his back, that fleeting memory crumbled apart.
Slam! something impacted on his face. His mouth was already bloodstained, the impact caused his lips to crack, causing a new surge of blood.
He was kissing the ground — he noticed a moment later. After his flight that lasted strangely long, he seemed to have slammed on the ground without taking any defensive measures.
No, that was fine. It told him where the ground was.
He commanded his trembling legs and loins to stand up.
Just as he put hands on the ground and tried to get up—
He heard successive dry sounds.
And in the next moment, an impact akin to a hammer strike assaulted his head, robbing him of his consciousness.
Seeing Alexei powerlessly fall to the ground, the surrounding spectators burst into loud cheering.
“Phew, that was close…”
Ignoring that, Kei removed his face cloth while panting. He immediately started to inspect the condition of Dragon Stinger. The part where the greatsword hit was slightly dented, but nothing else seemed to be wrong with it. He pulled the string with all his strength over and over again, but it appeared that the damaged part had no impact on the bow’s performance.
“Keeei!!” Aileen rushed over to him, obviously on the verge of crying. “Are you okay!?”
“Yeah, I am. It’s just a scratch.”
“You’re lying! You’re bleeding!!”
Aileen started touching his face and left shoulder.
“He was more troublesome than I’d expected.” Kei muttered seriously while glancing at Alexei who was being nursed by Pierre and his apprentices.
Alexei appeared to be unconscious at the moment, but if Kei had not defended himself with Dragon Stinger at that time, it might have been him lying there right now.
Actually, in the worst case, both of us could’ve died…
Kei pulled a grim face when he reflected on the duel that just took place. Alexei had charged at him with a considerable force, and if Kei had failed to adjust the power of his long arrow, the outcome of this duel would have been unclear.
Good thing I weakened it a bit…
Kei pondered while gazing at the hole opened up in the chest area of Alexei’s armor.
Aileen waved her hand in front of his eyes.
“Huh? What’s wrong?”
“Don’t what’s wrong me! Are you okay? Were you hit on the head?”
She worriedly put a hand on Kei’s forehead.
“Don’t worry. It’s not such a deep wound.”
Kei peered into Aileen’s moist eyes with a smile on his lips.
They kept staring at each other like that for a while, but then realized that something didn’t feel quite right.
It was far too quiet.
They nervously looked around themselves…
“Boy, you two are so passionate.”
They were met with faces, many faces, watching over them with warm smiles.
Noticing that, the two’s faces flushed red.
“Good job, Kei! With this, Aileen is officially yours in both name and reality! Be glad!” Dagmar yelled as he raised his cup, already completely wasted from the alcohol.
The excited onlookers joined him with cheers.
“But man, I’m so jealous! You got your hands on one hell of a beauty!”
“I know right!”
“Get married! Get married!”
“Get married! Get married!”
They started yelling strange things to the beat of their claps. Kei squirmed uncomfortably out of embarrassment.
“Come on, kiss her!”
Someone suddenly yelled, and the atmosphere changed. The males burst into a roar, while the females started squealing in high-pitched voices.
“Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!”
The crowd surrounded them and cheered along with claps. Kei and Aileen’s faces became beet red.
Aileen grasped Kei’s hand with a yell.
“What is it!”
Guided by Aileen, Kei also started to run. The two somehow managed to break through the encirclement of the excited crowd.
“What a coward!”
“Show some backbone!”
The villagers jeered from behind as they fled the scene at full speed.
Still, not a single person chased after them.
“…God damn it!” Aileen sulked under the shade of a tree along the river. “Didn’t you promise me you wouldn’t get injured!”
The cause of her pouting was mainly Kei’s injury. Kei sat in front of Aileen with his upper body exposed as she disinfected his shoulder injury with the herbs she had prepared in advance.
She also brought a potion just in case, but the cut this time wasn’t that deep, so she decided against using it.
“Sorry, ouch… These herbs sting.”
“Not as much as POTs do.”
Kei grimaced in pain, but Aileen was quite merciless as she applied the disinfecting ointment.
The place was wrapped up in silence for some time, only disturbed by the murmuring of the river.
“…Okay, you’re good.”
Aileen patted him on the head after finishing to wrap up his shoulder with a bandage.
“Now listen, don’t ever do something like this again, you hear! I was really afraid while watching the duel!”
She said while putting the medicine into her pouch, attempting to make a scary face. But instead, it only made Kei smile. And yet, he tightened his expression immediately.
“Sorry. But I just couldn’t allow you being taken away from me.”
Aileen glanced at Kei’s serious expression from the side as she finished sorting her pouch and sighed.
“And now? Did I become yours with this?”
“…Sorry. I’ll apologize if I’ve hurt your feelings with how I phrased it.”
Kei quickly apologized after noticing Aileen’s flat way of talking, devoid of any emotions. Seeing Kei act like that, caused Aileen to break into a smile.
Kneeling in front of him, she peered deep into his eyes.
Before long, she reached out and took Kei’s right hand — guiding it to her own chest.
Kei was confused for a moment on why he was touching her chest or why Aileen made him do it, but he immediately realized after a few seconds.
The left side of her chest. The place he was touching now had once been pierced by a poisonous arrow.
“I… I don’t clearly remember what happened on that day.” Aileen began to talk. “But I do remember that you protected me.”
Her blue eyes trembled.
“Hey, Kei…having your life saved feels… quite incredible.”
She lovingly caressed Kei’s hand as she held it at her chest.
“Besides, Kei… although you didn’t know my gender, I knew about you being a man from the very start.” Kei’s eyes started to dart around. Aileen took on an impish smile and continued. “…I’m not happy about you getting yourself injured like this. But you risked your life for my sake this time as well.”
With those words, she suddenly drew closer. A pleasant smell tickled Kei’s nose.
“—I suppose I have to express my thanks.”
Her face started to fill his field of view.
And the next moment, along with a soft sensation, a kiss was stolen from his lips.
Kei muttered in dumbfoundment.
Separating from him, Aileen giggled bashfully.
Kei put a hand to his lips, still trying to process what had happened.
But then, he finally realized what that meant.
And with this, he was made painfully aware that he could not suppress the feelings hidden in his chest any longer.
The caravan left the village on the same day, slowly heading north along the road.
Taking with them one winner, and one loser.
And also, one couple.
Why had they arrived in this world?
What kind of life should they lead from now on?
Was there a way to return to their former world?
And even if there was — would they go back?
There were many things they desired to know and had to consider.
Up until today Kei and Aileen had been traveling to find clues to answer all those questions.
As they had expected — after roughly another half a day of traveling, the caravan reached Stronghold City Urvan.
Author’s comment: For the record, around two weeks have passed within the story so far.
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