Chapter 19 – Qualifying Day 1, Knight Corps (Part 1)
– Arena (Luke, Squad Captain POV)
Six Captains, now including myself, and five Vice-Captains stood within the arena. Behind us, 180 soldiers from all of the different corps were arranged on the arena grounds.
The auditorium was filled with the nobles and citizens of the Empire.
The Imperial Family was sitting in the ceremonial seats in front of us.
“Henceforth! The martial arts tournament of the three countries shall begin!” [???]
The green-haired Prime Minister, who was standing in between us and the Emperor, raised his voice while the audience cheered in unison.
The stage was set for the fight to determine the representative of the country four days from now.
– Player Waiting Room
I was currently in the waiting room given to the Knight Corps members, along with about 30 other people, waiting for my match.
Today’s scheduled matches would determine the representatives of the Knight Corps and the Swordsmen Corps.
At any rate, the number of participants in the qualification round was much larger this year.
It would be unreasonable to have everyone fight in one day, so two teams would fight each day, and the representatives would be chosen from each team. On the last day, the chosen participants would fight to determine the representative of the country.
The order of the matches was chosen by lottery. As such, day one was the Knight Corps and the Swordsmen Corps, day two was the Archer Corps and the Spear Corps, and day three was the Mage Corps and the Fighter Corps.
The matches between the Knight Corps were currently taking place, and the matches for the Swordsmen Corps were scheduled to happen afterwards.
The fights began at about 10:00 am and would last well into the night.
There was a festival taking place around the arena, so there were stalls selling food and drinks and it wasn’t a problem to stay the whole day to watch.
I was selected early in the qualifying rounds, so I was quite pleased.
The sooner your round was over, the faster you could rest and observe the other corps.
Besides, speaking of all days…
“Knight Commander, Knight Squad Captain Luke. Your match is about to begin, please move to the entry gate.” [???]
– Military Officials’ Dedicated Seating
I was sitting in the authorized military seating section of the arena, together with Adolf, Celestia, Brandon, and Amy.
Alice was watching with some school friends, so she was sitting with the general audience.
Although I did not know where Claude was, he was undoubtedly watching from somewhere.
“Even though it happens every four years, it seems to be especially lively this time.” [Adolf]
Adolf, who was sitting next to me, muttered.
“Certainly. Wouldn’t you say that there are more people than the last time?” [Brandon]
Brandon said with his arms crossed.
Indeed, there was a much larger crowd than there was four years ago.
“Naturally! It’s because the Black Knight is participating this year!” [Celestia]
Celestia said proudly.
Amy nodded as she voiced her agreement.
“Not surprising. The Black Knight is the hero of the Empire, the person who stood alone against and defeated a dragon. Everyone gathered to try to catch a glimpse of the hero.” [Adolf]
Adolf said, in a convinced tone.
Hearing those words filled me with a sense of pride.
Truly, that person was amazing.
In fact, there was never a moment when I was not amazed…
Suddenly, the crowd began cheering.
I looked up and, just as I expected, the contestants had entered the arena floor from the entrance.
“Oh! The Black Knight is following along.” [Brandon]
Brandon said when he saw the Commander.
“Eh? Is the Black Knight carrying a wooden sword? The shape seems to have changed to a…” [Adolf]
Adolf tilted his head to one side.
That wasn’t surprising.
The normal design of a wooden sword was a cross shape.
However, the Commander was carrying what looked like a long stick with a gentle curve.
When you looked at it closely, you could see that it was similar to Sakuya.
“It’s apparently referred to as a ‘bokken’. The Commander previously told me that the cross-shaped sword was difficult to use and proceeded to build a wooden sword specifically for this day.” [Conrad]
I gave a brief explanation.
“By himself? Not a woodworker?” [Adolf]
“He said something about the image not being transmitted well…” [Conrad]
I recalled when the Commander had told me about it while carving out the sword with wood working tools.
“I showed the craftsman Sakuya and explained what I wanted, but the overall image…I ended up deciding to build it on my own.” [Chie]
Was it because the explanation had not been clear enough? The Commander had worked on the sword with drooping shoulders, looking depressed.
“But, it looks kinda lumpy.” [Brandon]
Brandon muttered while looking at the wooden sword.
“Brandon, do not say that to the Commander. The person himself seemed quite sensitive about it.” [Conrad]
I remembered a figure that breathed a heavy sigh upon the completion of the wooden sword.
“About that? What kind of guy would have the personality to care about such small details?” [Adolf]
As I was listening to Adolf, he was suddenly hit.
“What are you…” [Adolf]
Adolf sent a sharp gaze toward Celestia while rubbing the back of his head.
“Maybe he has a sensitive side to him.” [Celestia]
Nevertheless, the Commander, who usually said things like “it’s normal”, became so delicate that I had started to worry.
Besides, with the various things that had happened in the last six months, on top of coming to an unfamiliar place, it seemed like an odd thing to be so worried about.
“Even if you hide the gender, she is still a woman.” [Alice]
…said that with a smile on her face.
Apparently, it was difficult for a man to understand such things.
When I told her that I didn’t understand…
“…You just don’t understand a woman’s heart, brother.” [Alice]
…She told me with half-closed eyes.
What did that mean?
“(giggle)” [Amy & Celestia]
For some reason, Amy and Celestia were laughing.
“What?” [Three Clueless Men]
We tilted our heads to the side, confused about what the two women were talking about.
-General Audience Area
“It’s the Black Knight.” [???]
“Ah, finally.” [???]
I was watching the matches with Alice and three of her school friends.
I didn’t have work today, so I was wearing plain clothes.
I was wearing cream-colored pants with black leather boots, as well as a dark brown jacket over a black shirt.
When Chie saw my clothes before I left…
“You, your casual clothes are rather plain.” [Chie]
…is what she said.
Even I had normal looking clothes.
Everyone had at least one pair of ordinary clothes…is what I would like to say, but Chie has never gone out in normal clothes.
Apparently, she wanted to hide her identity; her hair and eye color in particular.
Though, even I had no idea where she came from.
I hadn’t even heard of any rumors about people with that kind of hair and eye color.
Was she from a group of people that lived in hiding somewhere or something?
“Claude? Is something wrong?” [Alice]
Alice spoke to me as I was engrossed in my thoughts.
Useless, useless. It was a rare chance to be with Alice outside of work. Thinking about these things was unnecessary.
Generally, it was unnecessary to dig any deeper into Chie’s background.
“Uh, no. It’s nothing.” [Claude]
“Hm? Is that so?” [Alice]
I gave a slight laugh in response.
“It’s just that his opponent is poor. The battle will be over in the blink of an eye.” [Claude]
I purposely diverted the topic.
Well, those were my sincere feelings though.
“Certainly. Even a Squad Captain wouldn’t be able to reach the feet of Black Knight-sama.” [Alice]
Alice said without hesitation.
Really, Alice always thought about her master first.
To be honest, I envied Chie.
In response to our conversation, one of Alice’s friends, who had short, blue hair and glasses, let out a voice.
Alice was wearing her maid uniform, while the other three were wearing their servant school uniforms: a white, one-piece apron over a brown servant dress.
They were wearing clothes meant for a normal student servant, unlike Alice, who was employed.
Alice was wearing a black dress with a white frilly apron. It was easy to tell that Alice had better quality clothes than the other girls.
It was certainly a lovely appearance.
Well, aside from that.
“Eh? What is it, Ashe?” [Alice]
Apparently, the girl with short, blue hair was called Ashe.
Even though we greeted each other a little while ago, she had not introduced herself.
“I was worried about it until a moment ago, but it seems like your acquaintance here and the Black Knight have a close relationship? Forgive me, but you don’t appear to be a noble and don’t seem to be a part of the military either?” [Ashe]
The other two nodded, agreeing with Ashe.
“That’s right! You and Alice seem pretty close!” [???]
“How to say it? It’s like you received enough of an education but, at the same time, are still missing something?” [???]
The girl with long green hair wrapped in a bun behind her head spoke first, and the girl with a black headband on her red, shoulder length hair followed up.
These two people carried an intense aura.
Honestly, I was weak to this type.
I liked elegant women, like Alice.
Though, sometimes she scares me…
“Alice, this girl…uh…classmate…uh, friend is?” [Claude]
I somehow managed to ask.
However, the girl with the headband and red hair…
“What ‘this girl’! Is that any way to address a lady?!” [???]
She said sharply, with a red face.
As I thought, intense.
“Okay, okay, calm down, Karen. Claude, this girl is Karen, a classmate and friend from the servant school.” [Alice]
As Alice introduced her friend Karen and tried to calm her down…I gave a slightly cramped smile.
“Then, the girl with blue hair is Ashe, and the one with green hair is Lorna. They are also classmates and friends.” [Alice]
“Nice to meet you. Call me Ashe.” [Ashe]
I had one thought as the three were introduced.
Their personalities were completely different.
Ashe gave off a quiet atmosphere, and as a friend of Alice, that was understandable.
However, the other two gave off a very intense atmosphere, so the fact that they were friends with Alice was hard to imagine.
Lorna seemed to have a bit of a haughty attitude, while Karen was the type who would immediately go ballistic.
It was definitely a strange combination.
“Ladies, this is Claude. He’s a friend who I became acquainted with through my relationship with the Black Knight.” [Alice]
Alice introduced me to the other girls.
Well, she didn’t actually lie.
It was a fact that Chie and I are friends.
I also did meet Conrad and Alice through Chie.
“Please, your friend? This barbaric person?” [Karen]
Karen made a bitter expression while pointing her finger.
This rude woman.
The other two girls were surprised and opened their eyes widely.
“Hmph…sorry for being so uncivilized.” [Claude]
I retorted with a slight glare.
I expected this type of reaction, but it still didn’t sit well with me.
“Uh, Alice? No matter how you explain it to us, you are joking, right?” [Lorna]
Lorna asked Alice while trembling.
Now there’s two rude women!
“Hey, both of you…” [Ashe]
Ashe was trying to suppress the two.
Now, this girl seemed sensible.
“No matter what, it’s not a joke.” [Alice]
Alice told them with a smile on her face.
The tension in the air between two strong women was unreal!
Ordinary women would be completely intimidated.
“Rather than that, could you quiet down? I would like to focus on the match.” [Claude]
I dropped the tone of my voice as I spoke to Karen and Lorna.
The three girls besides Alice gave me a blank look for a few moments.
Although they seemed to want to retort, they also appeared to be interested in Chie’s upcoming match.
We all turned our attention towards Chie, who was in the arena.
She was currently standing in the center of the arena, lightly shaking the wooden sword while waiting for the match to start.
To be frank, I already knew how the tournament would end.
I could confidently say that Chie would be the representative.
For that reason, I hadn’t really come here to cheer, but to watch her fight.
Only Chie and I knew that we had once tried to kill each other.
We had become friends after we trained together.
Well, we didn’t do that as much recently.
For Chie, I wasn’t her only training partner.
Since Chie began serving as a training officer, the amount of time that we trained together has fallen.
Of course, it was also hard to get Conrad to train with me, since he trained the other soldiers as well.
Well, another reason was that I was the “Imperial Army Covert Investigator”, and the only people who knew of my attachment to the military were His Majesty, Conrad, Alice, and Chie.
I couldn’t participate in general training, so my training partners had all but disappeared.
Since that’s the case, I’ll use what I’m best at: observation.
However, I’ve never seen Chie in a one-on-one battle.
One of the several covert missions that Chie and I set out on was a long-term mission to suppress thieves.
At the time, it was believed by the general public that Chie had gone to subjugate some demons.
It was a thief suppression mission, so the battles naturally revolved around multiple opponents, and I was unable to witness a 1-on-1 fight.
Therefore, the tournament this time was a precious thing that I would witness, no matter what.
Sometimes, it frustrated me to know that I would never be able to win against her.
I mean, nobody had ever seen her get serious.
In other words, even though we had seen her fight before, her real power was unknown.
In the case of the thief subjugation as well, the only reason we were able to succeed was because of Chie.
It’s not funny!
Just how amazing can she be!
She wouldn’t mind this kind of thing, but I wanted to at least be comparable.
I remembered her figure that seemed to be crushed by anxiety when it had been time for her first mission.
On seeing such an appearance, I had called out to her.
However, she returned to her usual self shortly after.
After seeing such a thing, I finally understood.
She was just a normal person.
Everyone who lived in this city knew of her greatness, but it was different from the things that I knew.
Sure, Conrad and Alice could take pride in having known Chie ever since she first came to the Capital.
However, that made me want to become closer to her.
I wanted to reach the point where we could entrust each other with our backs.
Conrad might have had similar thoughts, but he was only thinking as a subordinate.
The feelings were similar, but different.
That was my goal now.
For a person who used the word ‘friend’ to describe a helpless assassin, it was only natural for a ‘true friend’ to return the favor.
At the moment, I was standing on the arena grounds with a wooden sword, facing my opponent.
My opponent was Luke, a Squad Captain who had thick, dark gold hair and was about 180 Kuameito tall.
He wasn’t an ikemen, but had a manly face with cool features.
He was equipped with chain mail, instead of plate armor and a helmet.
His wooden sword had the shape of a cross.
The use of real blades in the tournament was prohibited to prevent death.
Mages were provided with a bracelet that acted as a type of magic limiter.
Well, it was a festival meant for fun, not for killing people.
I quickly made a wooden sword for this day.
However, because of my lack of knowledge in woodworking, the finished product left much to be desired…
“Commander! Best regards!” [Luke]
As I gently swayed the wooden sword, dissatisfied, Luke bowed his head in a manner that clearly showed that he was nervous.
Hey, hey, even though it’s just a match, are you going to be okay?
“Hey, hey, if you’re so nervous before the actual match, you won’t be able to fight properly, you know?” [Chie]
I tried to encourage him to relax but…
“M-My apologies! Commander!” [Luke]
It was useless. He was completely tensed up.
It can’t be helped. Truthfully, I wanted a normal match, but looks like I’ll have to change my plans.
Sometimes, it was necessary for the Squad Captain to take the field on behalf of the Commander or Vice-Commander.
Well, the more dangerous missions were lead by the Commander or Vice-Commander, but for small punitive missions like goblin suppression, the Squad Captains usually served as a lead.
Even then, no matter how earnest the person was, the tension and anxiety to complete their duties and make precise decisions could take a toll.
Well, this young man had only recently become a Squad Captain.
His skill with the sword was considerable, but if there was something that I could criticize, it was that he lacked the experience to lead people.
For that, he only needed the experience!
Therefore, my priority was to not make my opponent become too tense.
“Then, both contestants! Take your positions!” [Referee]
In response to the referee uncle, Luke readied his sword.
He held the sword in his right hand and lowered his posture.
He held the long sword with one hand because we had many mounted knights who often used a weapon with one hand.
Mounted knights held the reins with one hand and the sword with the other.
Knights could also use lances, but most used a sword.
As I thought about such things, I clasped my sword tightly.
I held the sword with both hands, holding it to the lower right and behind me. If someone looked at me from the front, it would seem as if I was empty-handed.
“Uh, that…” [Referee]
The referee let out a voice while noticeably perplexed.
“On your command.” [Chie]
I said to the referee.
To Luke, who was also perplexed, I said,
“Luke, on the command, give it everything you have.” [Chie]
“Eh? Ah, but…” [Squad Captain]
Luke was more and more puzzled by my words.
“It’s fine…come at me…with everything you have.” [Chie]
Towards the end of my statement, I dropped the tone of my voice.
When he perceived that, his confused face suddenly tightened.
He seemed to have switched to being combat-ready.
Good. Just like that.
The referee gave the command.
Just as I told him to, Luke kicked off the ground and charged at me.
He attacked while brandishing the sword from above.
For a normal person in the military or a guild, it would look like a movement that was too fast to avoid.
However, I avoided it by pulling back.
Maybe it was within his expectations. Luke immediately threw out attacks one after another.
Attacks converged on me over and over from all sides.
I dodged each one.
What’s this, he can fight perfectly fine after all.
With this, it’s alright.
“Well, about time to finish this.” [Chie]
After saying that, I created a little distance with a strong jump backwards.
I opened the distance between Luke and me in an instant, while fending off an attack, which left Luke surprised.
“Hey, hey, standing around surprised like that, you’re leaving yourself open!” [Chie]
“!? Damn it!” [Luke]
It was useless once an opening had been made. I quickly stepped to the front.
“…From below.” [Chie]
“…I am defeated.” [Luke]
Luke let out a voice of defeat as the tip of my sword stopped right before his throat.
“T-The winner! Black Knight!” [Referee]
The referee announced the winner without managing to hide his surprise and amazement.
The audience gave an enormous cheer.
I removed the wooden sword…
“Thank you very much.” [Chie]
…and lightly bowed to Luke.
“Ah, thank you very much!” [Luke]
Luke also took a deep bow, attempting to mimic me.
While my bow was about 45 degrees, Luke easily lowered his head to about 90 degrees.
In Japan, you only lowered your head 90 degrees for an apology, but since this wasn’t Japan, I decided not to mind it.
The meaning behind how much one lowered their head was a cultural difference that was unknown to this country.
“It is best to react with good judgement and in a calm manner.” [Chie]
“! Yes!!” [Luke]
Luke gave me a reply as I walked away, in order to leave the arena grounds.
Though no one could see because of the helmet, I heard him as I was leaving the grounds, and a smile spread across my face.
The training with Claude was totally worth it!
After I received this body from Amaterasu, my opponent’s movement always looked slow. However, even if my physical abilities were improved, it didn’t mean that complex and precise movement was possible.
Just because a human’s stamina and strength are great didn’t mean that they could do anything.
After secretly observing someone for a time, you could eventually read the signs and predict what actions and movement they might take.
It was originally a skill I got from Earth, where I observed the other person to find the precise opportunity to escape.
I never thought that the tactics I had used to avoid Yuusuke would be useful in a place like this.
When I was only recalling battles from manga, anime, and games, I could only mimic the form.
With the help of missions and the training with Claude, I was able to incorporate everything in a battle and finished a decent style.
In fact, while I was attempting to train based on my own knowledge of how to fight one evening, I was approached by Claude.
Since it was offered and it was a good chance, I immediately accepted.
Honestly, I could have trained with the soldiers, but then I would have wanted to hold back.
It wasn’t like I was looking down on the other soldiers or anything.
My previous fight with Claude led me to understand the level of the soldiers in the military, so I became insecure.
However, I would never say that they were weak.
The difference in strength between Captains and Vice-Captains was still quite large, but most of the soldiers were at a more normal skill level.
Even when compared with Claude, the difference was clear.
You could say that Claude was at the level of a Captain.
No, maybe not yet.
Though he was inferior to Conrad, he could get a draw with a Captain if he was lucky.
It was because we fought each other one-on-one that I knew such things.
Therefore, I was comfortable with training together with him.
After training with him for so long, I began to understand his style better.
His best weapon was that he was fast and light.
He used acrobatic moves, and his speed sometimes made you lose sight of his movements.
For training, Claude used a wooden cross-shaped sword and I used Sakuya’s sheath for training instead of real weapons.
Incidentally, I put a barrier around us that made us invisible to people outside, since I trained in normal clothes.
After all, if I always relied on the defense of my armor, the training would have no meaning.
Therefore, even if it was just a wooden sword, if it was aimed at a vital point, I would still feel fear.
So, I studied.
It was a fight against an experienced human.
Claude might have been confident, but I always won the battle, even though I was also always desperate.
He was always frustrated, but it was vexing for me too.
I am always being helped by him. He was strong both mentally and physically.
Conrad and Alice also supported me greatly, but in the end, the relationship was still master and subordinate, and as such, I was the one they relied on.
If Claude had not stayed, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that I would have been crushed by my position.
The only person whom I could rely on as a ‘friend’ was Claude.
Therefore, I want to be comparable to him.
As for the current me, even though it was a fake strength, I wanted to reach a point where I was able to support him.
For now, my goal was to become an existence who, for the first time, would be called a ‘best friend’.
As I returned to the waiting room, I clenched my sword even more tightly than before.