Chapter 110 - Towards the Storm (4)
Beyond the eastern forest, the horizon was burning red. Perhaps it was proof that Theodore and Laevateinn's battle was reaching the next stage. Flames would sometimes emerge through the clouds, while the whole forest itself was filled with bursting heat.
White Tower Master Orta sat idly on a stump in front of a cabin and watched the scene.
His lips, revealed under the white mask, suddenly parted. "In the last war, the empire lost two master swordsmen. The 3rd and the 6th, they were tough opponents."
Unlike his emotionless voice, Orta really meant it. If he looked back on when he encountered the 3rd Sword, he would still get goosebumps. There were dozens of senior magicians who had died from that man's sword. The 6th Sword's swordsmanship couldn't be ignored either. The wounds from his sword had been so strong that they never faded. From that time on, Orta had started using this mask.
Orta unconsciously touched the mask and smiled bitterly. "It has already been 15 years, pretty fast."
Even if the magicians and swordsmen reached the master level, it was hard for their lifespan to exceed 200 years. Meltor and Andras had repeated wars, so their lifespan was short on average. Nevertheless, the battle between the magic kingdom and sword empire continued on, and the reason for that never changed.
There were always people who appeared to fill those empty seats.
"...The personal talk ends here," Orta said as he got up. Then he turned in the direction of the cabin and stared. No, to be exact, he was staring at a area of air. Orta looked alert, like he was convinced that someone was there.
"Won't you show yourself, Sword Master? If you take one more step, then I won't be able to stay still."
Anybody would be confused if they saw this scene. There were nothing in the place where Orta's eyes were fixed on, just an occasional breeze passing through. No life could hide in it, and there wasn't even a flicker of mana.
In this first place, this was the Great Forest, so no one could avoid Elvenheim's Ratatoskr surveillance. It was an impossible feat even for White Tower Master Orta, who could use space magic. At that moment, Orta's index finger drew a line in the air.
Suddenly, flames emerged. In the empty space, two powers collided, and there was a shock wave.
Then as the two powers canceled out, the shock wave rippled through the ground and showed traces of a border. This wasn't a coincidence. It was just a step away from the point where Orta had given the warning.
Simultaneously, a shocked voice rang out, "No?!"
The voice sounded like an echo, not leaving any traces of where it came from. It was like a whisper in his ear as well as a yell in the distance. So, it was impossible to find the owner just by listening to the voice.
However, Orta was convinced he knew and looked at a point two steps to the right of where he had originally looked. As a positive light shone in Orta's eyes, the space where nothing was present began to distort.
"...I am amazed. You... are you really looking at me?" A man appeared within the distorted space.
His face was covered with a mask similar to Orta's, but the colour was a dark black, as if to melt into darkness. There were a sword which was neither long nor short hanging from his waist. It was an arming sword, designed to be handled with one hand and suited for those with a sleek physique.
Oddly, there was a masked man standing in the forest of the elves.
As the tension rose, Orta opened his mouth first. "3rd or 6th, which one are you?"
"I don't know. Do all sword masters have to belong to the empire? I could just be a sword master passing by."
"...How slippery." Orta frowned at the man's joking answer.
The opposition was an unidentified person and surely one of the Empire's Seven Swords, but there was no way to prove it. The existence of a master who hadn't been exposed to the outside world was annoying in many ways.
On the surface, there was a non-aggression pact, and a third country wouldn't be able to plan this in a few days. In this situation, Andras wouldn't suffer any losses.
"You are the one who released Laevateinn."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"At the time of the delegation, you released the monster and infiltrated the deepest part of Elvenheim. Due to Laevateinn, you can aim at the neural network where the gap is weakest. Is your purpose the assassination of the high elves?"
The man flinched at the truth that emerged. He hadn't said anything, yet the opponent had pierced through their plan in an instant. It was a really terrifying insight. When the man's mouth shut, it was an inadvertent sign of agreement, and Orta immediately understood that his thoughts were correct.
'It is well-organized in its own way. The risk is low, and there is nothing connecting it back to Andras. They overlooked the danger, but...'
Andras probably didn't understand completely what Laevateinn was. If they knew, they wouldn't have released a monster which would burn away all life in the material world. They almost destroyed themselves in their last ditch effort to stop the Meltor Kingdom.
Andras just thought it was a plan which could deal a fatal blow to Meltor and Elvenheim in either direction. If Elvenheim collapsed due to Laevateinn, that would be good. Even if it failed, it would cause massive damage, and they could assassinate the high elves in the meantime.
In Elvenheim, a country which originated from the world tree, the high elves were the focal point and not simply a symbolic meaning. At least four high elves were needed to keep the world tree alive. If it fell below that, the world tree would weaken and wane.
If this happened, rather than Elvenheim playing a role in the war between Meltor and Andras, the existence of the country itself would be jeopardized.
"Only idiots would use a knife that they don't know much about. The person who released Laevateinn and sent you here, I want to hear their name."
However, the man just laughed and shook his head. "I don't know what you are talking about. And you, will you even be in a state to receive the answer?"
"Well, I did realize something." The man naturally raised a hand to his sword.
The sword which had accepted its master's hand cried out threateningly. A frivolous attitude was nowhere to be seen as the sword master's eyes sharpened behind the mask. The man activated the power behind a sword master's existence, Aura ability.
He didn't know how, but his opponent had seen through his stealth and realized the whole plan. This meant it was too risky to keep Orta alive.
"You have to die here."
A sword master's flesh contained its own lethal power. Falling leaves were shattered without warning as a white aura formed around the sword. The current sword would even be able to break a dragon's scales.
Despite facing a blade which could slice at his neck any moment, Orta opened his arms without any fear. The number of people who had witnessed the White Tower Master fight didn't even reach 10. The white mask covered his face, but a strange smile was revealed underneath it.
"It has been a long time since I've felt this tension. It is quite delightful."
"...Are you going to fight like this?"
There was only a 10-meter distance between the two masters. For a sword master, it was such a short distance that it wasn't even half a step. The man thought he was being thought lightly of, and indignation bubbled under his black mask. There had been a desire to pay homage to the enemy who had fought against his seniors. However, that died down after his pride was wounded.
"I am familiar with the rumours. The White Tower Master, a fugitive who doesn't hesitate to show his back on the battlefield... You yourself claimed that combat isn't your specialty, isn't that right?"
"Well, your words aren't wrong."
"Is that so? Then..."
There were no preliminary actions. His ability, 'Disappear' removed him from the world. Visual, auditory, olfactory, as well as tactile senses... all signs of his existence were erased. So, all of his attacks were like ambushes, and the front was no different from the back.
There wasn't even a flutter of mana as he stretched out toward the elder's neck.
Shortly after that, the positions of the two masters were reversed.
Red blood spurted out. Drops of blood splashed out from torn flesh and flowed down the neck. It was obvious that if the attack had been even one step deeper, it would be his brain, not his ears, which would have been damaged, and he would've died instantly.
"Hmm, I am still rusty," Orta murmured as he looked at the sword master whose ear he had cut off.
"Well, it is as you said. My magic is forever exploring space and time, so I never thought of combat as my specialty." A creepy light appeared from behind the white mask. "It isn't my specialty, but I never thought I lagged behind in it."
If anyone in Meltor were asked about the greatest magician, they would say Blundell Adruncus. If anyone in Meltor were asked about the most powerful magician, they would say Veronica's name. If anyone in Meltor were asked about the most mysterious magician, they would cautiously mention the Yellow Tower Master.
This was why White Tower Master Orta was more dangerous than anyone else. If there was an opponent he couldn't win again, he would flee and kill someone he could win against. In fact, it was Orta who had taken down the 6th Sword in the last war, but no one had witnessed how he'd fought.
As the black masked man understood this fact and started sweating, Orta sent him a cold smile.
"The price of not giving me an answer is costly. Don't think you will be able to leave with all your limbs...!"
The second battlefield was unveiled in the deepest part of the Great Forest.
* * *
'Two steps left.'
Theo's bones were already trembling. His physical body didn't exist, so it was likely that his brain would melt from the heat. The water elemental ruler's protection and Umbra were used to maintain his life, but Theodore had already reached his limit.
He needed to take one more step. However, his intuition told him that if he took this step, he would surely die.
He had no choice but to go. He knew he had to go. He ought to go.
However, the soles of his feet didn't move.
The boundary of life and death... this last hurdle was so hard. Theo might die the moment he took this footstep. All the glory in his hands would turn to ashes. He was afraid that even his soul would burn up.
There was no way to bring out more strength. Mitra's strength was pointless in this dead land, and he had already mobilized the power of Umbra to its limit. The current result was because he also used the defense magic in Memorize.
Theo somehow understood that this was the boundary. This was the realm of a hero, the realm of those who overcame the fear of death and threw themselves into the struggle. Then, he remembered it.
Theo had already crossed this boundary once. If he reached the place where he'd left his footprints, he would feel more comfortable. The face of Ellenoa, who he had almost died to protect, entered his mind. As he recalled the moment he'd dealt with Superbia, all hesitation disappeared.
He made the third step. Then as the flames burned his consciousness, Theo shouted, [Gluttony-!]
-I have been waiting!
The tongue stretched out from his left hand, and in the swirl of heat and light which no one's eyes could see through, the nemesis of a grimoire appeared. Even the grimoire Laevateinn, who didn't have a separate intellect, tried to withdraw as it felt an unconscious fear.
However, just before that could happen, it was caught by the tongue.
-I got it!