Chapter 158 - One Year Later (4)
As he spoke, the aura around Baek Jongmyung burned even further. However, Theodore didn't move.
Unlike his opponent who was only accepting it now, Theodore had anticipated this situation from the beginning. Catching Baek Jongmyung's feet with Magic Bullet... and launching a surprise attack using Memorize... Theodore had done these things, but he had never thought they would work.
'Surprise attacks don't mean much to a sword master.'
It was true that he had sparred many times with Randolph, but a sword master was literally a grim reaper.
Their response speed was different that of from normal aura users. Just like how one's body would shrink back when it touched something hot or cold, a sword master's aura had already reached the area of spinal reflexes. They could prevent ambushes even while in a deep sleep, and a lightning strike would be prevented with minimal damage.
A sword master's aura was for offense and defense.
Setting aside their Aura Ability, their combat power with pure aura was extremely threatening. High attack power and defense, excellent mobility, and overwhelming endurance... there were no weaknesses.
At that moment, Baek Jongmyung's blade moved like a wave. Seeing it, Theodore muttered unconsciously, "...Soft sword?"
"Oh, so you know it. I heard that it isn't often used in the west, so you have great knowledge," Baek Jongmyung replied with an admiring expression.
However, Theodore would've thought it was just a strange swordsmanship if it wasn't for Lee Yoonsung's memories. With a strong and resilient metal, the sword was capable of creating trajectories with a unique flexibility. A master could use it to deal fatal blows from any angle.
Regrettably, Lee Yoonsung had no experience fighting against it.
"Then let's get started," Baek Jongmyung spoke as he rushed forward first.
The sword in his right hand moved like a whip several times, with the sword's acceleration creating afterimages. Theodore had only experienced Randolph's straightforward sophistication, but this was fundamentally different.
Pit! Blood splattered out.
Even with the help of his sensory perception, Theodore got injured. Baek Jongmyung had swung from a distance which the sword couldn't reach Theodore, but a line of blood was still drawn on Theodore's cheek.
Once a whip struck, it would become as hard as a mace. Similarly, the power of the curved sword was launched at Theodore's face!
'Indeed, this technique...!' Theodore stopped breathing while inwardly admiring it.
At a close distance, it was faster and more powerful than Magic Bullet. The snake-like orbit was difficult to read, and it wasn't a technique he could cope with, even with his senses. Above all, it wasn't a technique which ended with one or two hits. Instead, the attacks poured out like rain.
No, it was like a snake with hundreds of heads.
The protective magic he used as a shield was pierced like it was a piece of cloth. Defense magic which shielded his whole body wasn't good against a single-point attack. However, if he reduced the defense area, a mistake of a few millimeters would lead to a fatal injury.
'I can't block it. I should avoid it.' Theodore was out of breath as he activated, 'Battle Song. Sonata of Speed. Vivace.'
Battle Song strengthened his overall physical abilities while the others enhanced his mobility. His speed had temporarily increased by 50%, so he was determined to find a breakthrough. Unsurprisingly, the light in Theodore's eyes soon started to see some of the orbit.
'...This much is enough!' Simultaneously, Theodore took a step forward.
"Hmm?" The advance was surprising, and Baek Jongmyung looked at Theodore with a confused expression.
The magician's robes were filled with holes, and blood flowed from his wounds. So, why was he advancing? It was an action beyond bold recklessness. However, unlike his thoughts, Baek Jongmyung didn't slow down his momentum. He had already paid a price once for carelessness. He wouldn't be taken by the same thing twice.
The storm of swords swallowed Theodore.
The gravel was scraped away, and a few weeds scattered like dust.
Even a knight with full plate armor would be torn to rags by the whirlwind, let alone Theodore who was wearing robes. It was a terrible sight which caused the spectators to not want to see the results.
However, the two sword masters didn't panic. Randolph was familiar with Theodore's skills. Meanwhile, Baek Jongmyung cried out unknowingly, "Good!"
It was an evasion that even the attacker admired! Theodore and the swords had danced gloriously at a speed which couldn't be followed by ordinary human eyesight. He had avoided the attack, but it wasn't simply because he was fast. It was because he had used Lee Yoonsung's foot movements. Theodore danced between the vortex of blades.
Shortly after that, Theodore's turn finally came.
'An eye exists in any storm.'
Unlike the violent outskirts, the center of the turbulent force was calm.
Of course, swordsmanship and a natural phenomenon couldn't be seen in the same context, but there were similar aspects. It was necessary to maintain the torque at certain intervals in order to generate the acceleration. This meant the power of the torque wouldn't be exerted if Theodore approached close to Baek Jongmyung.
It was certainly true in theory, but who would want to try it against a sword master?
A person insane enough to do so was right here.
'Memorize. All Slots Open. Triple Blaze Burst. Triple Fire Strike. Spell Fusion: Strike Flare.'
At that moment, Theodore's fist became hot enough to melt iron.
There was a massive explosion. The fire spread quickly as Theodore flashed over to the other side. Baek Jongmyung's clothing was almost destroyed, and despite defending with aura, there were shallow burns on his skin.
Without paying any attention to the pain from his wounds, Baek Jongmyung spoke, "...Truly amazing skills, Sir Ted."
In this limited battlefield of a vacant lot, a magician could go against a sword master...? It was a situation where his Aura Ability was sealed, but that wasn't an excuse. If they competed with equal abilities, he might've become a chunk of charcoal sooner. Additionally, the opponent who had driven him to this state was in the early-20s, mid-20s at most.
Baek Jongmyung spoke to Theodore who emerged from the fire, "More than anything else, that footwork is from a famous martial arts family. If you don't mind, can you tell me where you learned it?"
Theodore thought for a moment before answering, "I happened to run into a kinsmen of the Lee Family and was taught, but he is deceased now."
"Lee Family... that isn't a family from Western Xia."
Baek Jongmyung wanted to converse this more on this subject, but Theodore refused to open his mouth. Although Baek Jongmyung was sad for a moment, he quickly found what Theodore was lacking.
"Sir Ted is comfortable with the martial arts taught to you, but you haven't yet mastered it."
"Yes, it is still immature."
"Huh, that isn't the right word. There are many juniors in my hometown, but I've never seen someone like Ted. I once again realized that the world is really wide."
Baek Jongmyung squeezed the sword in his hand and released his stance like he thought it was over.
However, Theodore wasn't satisfied yet. He was in front of a strong man who could refine his nerves to the limit, giving Theodore a stimulus which wasn't possible while sparring with Randolph. This experience with a master was worth more than 1,000 gold.
So, Theodore made a reasonable compromise. "As Master Baek said, I haven't mastered this technique yet. But I do have one skill I haven't tried before."
"...Uhh, that is regrettable." As expected from a warrior, Baek Jongmyung knew the meaning of Theodore's words and placed strength into the hand holding his sword again. It was a request to renew the fight. Baek Jongmyung wouldn't decline. No, in fact, he wanted to see more of Theodore's skills.
As expected, Baek Jongmyung nodded readily.
"Then shall we end this by competing with one last skill?"
"It is a good idea."
The two men exchanged a promise and retreated at a reasonable interval.
'Good, this is enough.'
It was still unusable in practice, but it was possible in a situation like this. As it was mentioned several times, a magician was strongest when they had secured a safe distance and time. If this were a normal battle against a warrior, for a magician, the probability of winning would be less than half.
However, what if the magician was Theodore Miller? The odds of the opponent winning would fall to half, or less than half.
Theodore did one last check and closed his eyes silently. It was a technique that couldn't be used without concentrating.
'Answer, door to Muspelheim.'
There was no need to open his mouth as the red tattoo on his left hand started to move under his glove. A dimension of fire where the density of mana was different from the normal world opened up, and the flames of Muspelheim filled his entire left arm.
Then he moved his consciousness from his left hand to another place.
'...This is still a little tough.'
The Blood Mark of Aquilo, the dragon who used to rule the Pirate Archipelago, wriggled in response.
It was a beautifully moist and cool aura. The dense energy which came from the dragon was so enormous it was like something sticky was stuck to Theodore's skin. His concentration was shaken by this feeling, and Theodore grumbled before continuing to focus.
His left hand contained Muspelheim's flames, while his right hand contained Aquilo's cold mana from the dragon blood. The yin energy and yang energies, two contrasting energies, formed in his hands.
Aquilo's cool mana and Muspelheim's flames struggled against each other. Even Theodore, who constantly trained his mind, couldn't hold it for long. In this state, even opening his mouth was grueling.
As Theodore barely managed to speak, Baek Jongmyung raised his aura.
Baek Jongmyung sensed that this power was unusual. The hairs on his body rose whenever he felt a threat to this life. He was being warned by his decades of training that this skill couldn't be stopped entirely with aura defense.
"Huhaha! My blood is boiling for the first time in a long time!"
The jubilation of a warrior... The power coming from Theo was enough to threaten Baek Jongmyung. As Baek Jongmyung's mouth formed a smile, both of Theodore's hands moved forward.
'Focus, focus, focus, focus, focusssss-...'
Blood flowed from Theodore's nose while his hands moved in a semicircle. A year had passed after defeating Superbia, and during that time, he had developed this method of protecting his life. This time, instead of draining away, the power was pulled inward.
The red and blue mana tangled together, creating an attack which could never have been seen before.
A flash burst out.
* * *
There was an earthquake, and the spectators standing in the distance stumbled. The two children, whom Baek Jongmyung had brought, were able to straighten their bodies, but Elsid and Marquis Piris could only regain their balance after holding onto a nearby tree.
"W-What the hell is this...!"
With confused eyes, Elsid looked at the vacant lot covered in dust. Despite having retreated to a considerable distance as so not to get caught by the collision, the shock wave had spread out a few hundred meters and made them dizzy. He was inexperienced with masters and had never seen their skills directly.
Their bodies shivered from the struggle. Five pairs of eyes filled with contradictory feelings of surprise, fear, admiration, and interest as they looked at where the duo had collided. Was it perhaps in response to their gazes...? The dust was washed away by the wind, revealing the scene inside.
"Oh, the winner..."
As the five people watched, the two opponents faced each other with conflicting expressions. Theodore's exhausted body was barely standing, while Baek Jongmyung's sword was at Theodore's neck.
It was a scene where the winner and loser were clearly revealed.
The swordsman Baek Jongmyung, who had beat Theodore in the last attack, gave a long sigh and lowered his sword.
Then he declared, "This game, I have lost it."