Chapter 237 - Second (1)
The day after arriving in Sipoto, Theodore had breakfast with Heinrich and said goodbye.
Heinrich couldn't hide his confusion as he asked if there was a problem, but Theodore just shook his head with a smile. Setting aside their age difference, it was easy for Theodore to talk to Heinrich.
If it wasn't for Heathcliff's prophecy, Theodore would've stayed for three or four more days.
Heinrich seemed to read this in Theodore's face and sighed with disappointment. He would've enjoyed a conversation with Theodore while reading books all day long, but an old man couldn't keep the young here.
"Huh, you are only staying one night... If I had known this, I would've stayed awake talking last night."
"My heart wanted to, but my body didn't obey. I'm afraid I'll have to take a rain check."
Then Heinrich laughed playfully. "Do you want new books?"
Theodore understood that Heinrich was half joking and half serious. "Huh? Ha, hahaha! Sir Heinrich hit the nail on the head. That passion would've been great if you walked on the path of a magician."
"Hearing such a compliment from the hero of Meltor, this old man's lungs won't survive. Hahaha!"
The two people's hearts met on the same page for a while before they got up.
The servants cleaned up the table, while Heinrich and Theodore walked along the hallway toward the main entrance. This encounter with the young hero who might leave his name in the history books... It was interesting for Heinrich to have met a hero who was interested in knowledge.
They left the mansion and headed outside. Theodore looked at the carriage in front of the main gate before pausing and turning to Heinrich.
"Then Sir Heinrich, take this."
It was an iron piece engraved with two horses. The piece was high-quality iron with few impurities. Obviously, it wasn't an ordinary iron piece. Heinrich had lived for at least 20 years in Kargas, so he recognized the iron piece at first glance.
"A badge of the Polonell Company."
"Yes, that's right."
"Why are you giving it to me?"
Theodore nodded and gave a brief explanation, "I know this is something that can't be traded. But it proves my identity. If Viscount Brahms from yesterday or someone else makes a fuss, please go to Bear in the Polonell Company and tell him my name. Then he will help you."
"...You are too mature for your age. Despite my reluctance, I will accept your consideration." The emotions in Heinrich's eyes deepened as he received the Polonell badge. It was easy to overpower or defeat others with force. However, it was rare to pay attention to the consequences that happened afterward. In this turbulent age, Theodore was truly a hero.
Feeling a slight reverence toward Theodore, Heinrich bowed again and thanked Theodore for his goodwill.
After that, Theodore got on his carriage. "Let's go."
The knight sitting in the driver's seat wielded the reins firmly. It wasn't done with any sophisticated technique, but it was enough to move the horses.
The two horses ran forward, and the carriage soon left Heinrich's residence. The border city had well-maintained roads, so the carriage's traveling speed wasn't greatly reduced in the city. Theodore sat in the occasionally shaky carriage and regretted the farewell before starting to worry.
'The unknown enemy... In what way will he come?'
After his numerous combat experiences, Theodore had learned the importance of the first strike. So, he couldn't help worrying. If he lost control in a situation where he was already lacking, that would be the end.
He wouldn't be able to make a preemptive strike against an enemy who might appear anywhere, so he had to prepare countermeasures. If the person had great destructive power like Pan Helliones, Theodore could use ranged attacks. If they were exceptional in surprise attacks like Hyde, then Theodore could use his sensitivity.
He had to think of all the possibilities. As Theodore remained silent, the carriage continued moving northwards beyond the boundaries of Sipoto, drawing tracks through the wilderness. The chill on Theodore's neck signaled that the threat was getting closer. It was a feeling he had felt several times before, but this time it was terrible.
'...Indeed, it is a sure death.'
It was similar to what he'd felt when he had still been immature and faced Pride with Ellenoa behind him. This would be an absolute death which couldn't be turned on its tables, even if he went beyond his limits.
If victory or defeat was determined with resolve, then even a mouse could kill a lion. However, that didn't work in reality. Before an overwhelming gap of power, a person's attitude was worthless. The weak would just be trampled on.
Therefore, Theodore's condition for victory was to just survive. He needed to leap over the opponent's overwhelming power. As such, he had already made preparations last night.
"Bring it on at any time."
His blue eyes shone as he prepared to jump over any adversity.
* * *
Despite Theodore's preparations, the assailant revealed himself in front of the carriage without trying for an ambush.
The moment that the driver pulled the reins and the carriage stopped, Theodore quickly jumped out of the carriage. It was because his sensitivity had warned him of the enemy's appearance in advance.
By the time landed on the ground, his circles were already prepared to fight.
"...This." Nevertheless, Theodore was one beat late.
"Hi," a drowsy voice rang out, "Theodore Miller?"
The assailant had dark brown hair and half-closed eyes. His patchy beard gave him a shabby appearance. He would've looked like a homeless person if it wasn't for the sword at his waist. His clothes were decent, but that didn't mean much.
"...If I am, who are you?" Theodore didn't hide his vigilance as he questioned the man.
"Number 2," an absurd reply was given, "Zest Speitem."
At that moment, Theodore stiffened. If Veronica and Blundell represented Meltor's power, then the 1st and 2nd Swords represented Andras' power. Most people didn't know their faces, and there was little known about how they fought because most of their opponents had been killed.
Zest, the person who had overwhelmed Sword Master Randolph with one blow, was now appearing before Theodore.
Zest's appearance didn't matter. The chill that Theodore felt proved the authenticity of his remark. Even if this man wasn't truly the 2nd Sword, his skill was comparable.
"Hehe." Sword Demon Zest looked at Theodore with blank eyes. Then he made a strange sound as he looked at the knight next to Theodore. As Zest's eyes blurred, the passing wind stopped like it had been cut by a blade. It was a phenomenon which couldn't be understood with common sense, but it clearly happened.
'A human stopping the wind with his will...? What a monster.' The nervous Theodore's breathing became rough.
Then Zest suddenly nodded at the knight. "Hey, who is this guy? He gives off a vaguely familiar feeling."
"...Why should I answer?"
"It doesn't matter. Well, this might be good."
Sururung, the sword Zest drew cried out, and he patted the sword politely. His languid expression disappeared, and Zest Speitem's voice became clearer, "Thanks to you, I was able to go outside. I am a little sorry to kill you. So―"
Theodore's breathing quickened as he became tense like a rubber band.
Suddenly, sparks flew as two swords collided with each other.
"Keok!" Theodore hurriedly retreated backward as the shockwave from the collision of the two swords hit him in the chest. He coughed a few times, but he couldn't hide his astonishment.
'I didn't see it at all? No, it isn't in the dimension of fast or slow...'
This was a blow which couldn't be defined with the concept of speed. Perhaps Randolph had also been beaten by this sword. It was an attacked which surpassed recognition. Had Zest planned a surprise attack from the front? Theodore's head would've been cut off if it wasn't for the driver.
"Eh?" Zest tilted his head with sincere confusion. "My sword was stopped? How?"
Of course, Theodore naturally knew the answer. The man, who had been called Lloyd during his life, had the Aura Ability 'Pathfinder' engraved on his body after being turned into a machine.
Pathfinder was the ability to read the right 'path.' However, rather than rejoicing at the enemy's attack being stopped, Theodore was surprised to realize one fact.
'He blocked the attack, but there was no interval to attack back!'
This was essentially a fight. The winner would be the one who could read ahead to attack or defend. In such an environment, Pathfinder was a very powerful ability. If the actions of the opponent were known one or two beats ahead, then that was enough to make a counter. In fact, Lloyd had taken down several sword masters that way.
Yet he was barely able to block this attack!
On the other hand, Zest was intrigued. "This is a fun toy. How many times can it endure?"
Zest figured out that the opponent wasn't human and raised his sword.
'I can't miss it this time!' As Theodore concentrated, the sword disappeared again.
Kakang! The first strike couldn't be denied. There was no precursor as it cut deep into Gladio's right wrist. The body of an automaton was different from that of humans, but half of its function was lost when it was damaged.
Jeeeong! The second strike was a piercing blow. Theodore still couldn't see it at all. Gladio tried to defend but was pushed back by the power behind the sword, which caused serious damage to Gladio's internal organs.
Kakakang! The stab turned into a slash. The sword was moving at a pace which already surpassed the domain of human cognition. Even a master level person wouldn't be able to tell what had happened.
Gladio blocked the sword with his left hand, but half of it was cut off. This was the end. Even an automaton couldn't maintain its combat ability in this state. The time it took Gladio to be defeated was two seconds. Given that there was no big difference between Lloyd's power in life and in death, Zest Speitem had shattered one of the Seven Swords in just two seconds.
A sword master's pure power was high, but this was pure skill.
"Reverse summoning," Theodore called out, and Gladio disappeared into its bracelet. It would take time and a lot of resources to fully recover from that damage. Clearly, it was safe to say he couldn't use Gladio for a while.
However, thanks to Gladio, Theodore managed to gain some time.
'As long as I can't recognize it, the power is unbeatable. It is suicide to fight in close proximity.'
Theodore's seven circles rotated as he gathered his strength, while Zest smiled. Zest's face was relaxed as if he could kill Theodore at any time. "It is a fairly well-made toy, but in the end, it is just entertainment. Will the owner be more than that?"
Theodore gulped down the horror as he gritted his teeth and clenched his fists. "You will regret that you didn't kill me just now."