Lucas’ mouth had gone dry watching the countless applicants be defeated without much effort in the previous 60 turns.
‘Can I deal with that monster?’
He felt it from the moment he saw Roman for the first time—A monster—There was no other way to express it other than those words. Just by looking at him, his heart was pounding, and cold sweat formed on his forehead. It was so bad that his palms were wet with sweat even though he did not have hyperhidrosis1.
Lucas, who realized how dangerous it was to face Roman from the beginning, did not smile as cheerfully as the other applicants when Roman mentioned he would do 120 duels by himself.
The battlefield—In the realm of life and death, where even the slightest carelessness could lead to death, Lucas’ keen senses had always saved his life. And it was the same this time—All his instincts told him that Roman was a monster he couldn’t handle even in a hundred years, and based on his past experiences, it was best to avoid a situation like this one. It was clearly a battle in which his defeat was inevitable.
He clenched his teeth. If he passed this test, he would have to work for only eight silvers per month, but there was a reason he couldn’t turn away—‘It’s the first time in my life that I have ever felt like this. I have witnessed many rankers while moving around the battlefield, but there was no one who had put such pressure on me purely with their presence. Roman Dmitry is completely different from what I remember. As he said, he is not a person who will stay and rot on the outskirts, and it is clear as crystal that one day he will spread his wings and take over the entire continent.’
Lucas—A B-class mercenary. People often said he had reached a great position, but Lucas knew he wasn’t that special.
B class is known as the limit of effort. If ordinary people risk their lives and work hard, they can also get B-class qualifications; however, unless they can use mana, they are not allowed to be promoted to A-class. From A-class onward, there were beings that could not be surpassed by mere battlefield experience. A strong force was needed to overpower them, and the essential condition for that was the flowering of mana2.
Lucas had reached that limit. As he barely dodged death, he realized that no matter how hard he tried, he had now reached his limit.
Coming to Dmitry was, in reality, a desperate choice. Lucas was at a crossroads, and while longing for a break, he saw an article that Roman was recruiting enlisted men.
‘Roman said—he promised to let those who follow him live the life of a predator. I can’t rationally understand why I gave up on the comfortable life of a B-class mercenary and came to follow Roman, but for now, I want to believe in what Roman said. Just one year—I will follow him for just one year and check if he stays true to his words even after that. So,’
He clenched his fist tightly. Then, he went up to the stage, looked at Roman, and grabbed the sword he had prepared separately.
‘For now, passing this test is my biggest priority.’
As soon as the start signal dropped, Lucas kicked the ground harshly.
In all of the previous 60 duels, except for the first opponent, no one had dared to advance first. Obviously, watching the giant man go forward without a hitch, everyone thought he had made a hazardous choice.
It was, of course, natural. This was a duel. Lucas didn’t need to achieve victory; he just needed to endure fighting for one minute. However, attacking first was no different from sticking your neck on the opponent’s sword. Nevertheless, Lucas had a different idea in mind—‘If I delay even a little bit, Roman will be the one who will attack first. In order for me to survive the one-minute time period, I have to take the initiative in this duel. That’s the only way I can win this fight.’
It was an instinctive decision—And of course, if you make such a decision, the execution must be drastic. A single second of hesitation on the battlefield was directly linked to death, so Lucas aimed at Roman’s head and heart simultaneously and attacked without hesitation.
Lucas’ weapon was truly unique—He used a slightly short sword in his right hand and a dagger in his left hand—Both weapons were made of wood. Roman had provided other types of wooden weapons at the applicant’s request, and Lucas was not the first one to ask for that.
However, his fighting style was unique—Roman’s head and heart—He slashed toward Roman’s head with his sword and stabbed toward his heart with his dagger.
Roman’s movements were quite simple. He stepped back to avoid the dagger from reaching him, then slashed toward the opponent’s sword with the wooden sword he was holding.
Naturally, Lucas quickly closed in. He changed the direction of his sword, swung it as if he would cut Roman’s neck, and threw the dagger in his other hand towards Roman’s solar plexus. It was truly anomalous. There hadn’t been any attempts for a ranged attack yet, but Roman swung his sword again—this time to block all attacks at once.
‘Again, damn it.’ Indeed, it was a scene of admiration. Normally, openings are likely to be exposed when one is stuck defending a relentless chain of attacks, but Roman was like a strong iron castle.
His breath was choked—He wanted to step back in case Roman attacked him suddenly, but he couldn’t afford to do that right now.
‘My opponent has no intention of killing me. However, even if it means giving up my flesh, I must not give Roman an opportunity to take the initiative to attack. Only 40 seconds. I just have to hold on for 40 more seconds, so I have to buy some time.’
Lucas ran even faster. He pulled out another dagger that had been hung on his waist, and he once again drove himself forward while aiming for his opponent with a two-way attack.
At that moment,
Pfft. Roman laughed.—‘Lucas, huh? He’s pretty good.’—An attack that ignores one’s own life is not a good choice on the battlefield, but he seems to have made a judgment worthy of a duel.
Roman realized Lucas had good senses.
These types of people are very useful on the battlefield. There is a high probability that Lucas will pass this test with flying colors, but that doesn’t mean I will let him hold out for a minute. One minute—That is a wall—A wall to show everyone how great the master whom they will follow in the future is.
By making a definite mark on their first meeting, Roman sought to earn the blind trust of the applicants.
‘Let’s end this.’
Literally, in an instant, Lucas’ attacks were blown away, and Roman’s combo attack broke through his defense. Moreover, he hadn’t even used the weapon with both hands—Lucas’s face was stained with astonishment, and everyone watching thought the match was as good as done.
However, just then, Lucas evaded the attack by throwing himself to the ground, and before anyone knew it, he threw the sand he had prepared pre-match on Roman’s face.
And that—was an obvious foul. Still, in this fight, there were no special rules. Roman had only told the applicants to hold on for a minute, so Lucas did everything he could.
‘This is a duel where victory and defeat can make a huge difference. I need to do everything I can to win this fight.’
Avoiding Roman’s attack was a lucky decision. Considering the length of the opponent’s weapon, he threw himself to the ground first and, fortunately, was able to dodge the attack in only a short amount of time. After that, he immediately sprinkled the sand he had brought in his pocket. He had thought he could never win under normal conditions, so he thought the result would be different if he could temporarily obstruct Roman’s view.
Roman was successfully hit by the sand. And as soon as Lucas fell to the ground, he got up again and ran like a bull toward Roman.
He can’t counterattack. Now is my time to seize the opportunity and defeat him.
However, Lucas, who was about to reach Roman and swing his sword, looked up; then, his face became pale.
Roman was looking straight at Lucas. Naturally, Lucas was confused. He thought that Roman might have avoided the sand; however, as soon as he saw the sand in Roman’s eyes, he was speechless as if someone had sewed his mouth. Clearly, Roman was hit by the sand—The foul worked out as intended, but Roman did not close his eyes despite the stinging impact of sand hitting his eyes, and was instead looking at his opponent clearly.
The red eyes—He should have closed them tightly and complained of pain, but when Lucas saw him, he noticed Roman was only waiting for him to rush toward him.
At that moment,
Lucas threw away his sword. Raising his hands, he announced he had no intention of fighting anymore. It was a quick abandonment—He had only done it due to his experience on the battlefield.
Lucas’ plan—Roman already knew about it. Even though Roman saw him reaching into his pocket, he wanted Lucas to show him what he was capable of. Thus, he was hit with the sand. And despite the stinging shock, he looked straight at Lucas without closing his eyes.
‘Never take your eyes off your opponent. That was something I learned when I was at the bottom of the Demonic Cult. The teaching was absolutely ingrained into the trainees’ bones to the point where one’s bones would hurt.’
He remembered the past—The Demonic Cult—While learning martial arts there, the first thing the trainees trained in was to not close their eyes, no matter the situation. A martial artist was, in the end, still a human being. And being blind was equivalent to being dead, so they were told not to close their eyes under any circumstances.
A single blink can cost one’s life.
Just as the trainees exhaled breaths in a sequence while training in martial arts, they would also blink through thorough calculations. The Demonic Cult’s method was extremely cruel. Throwing sand in the trainees’ eyes was just the basics. There was another way of stopping a blade just before one’s eyes, as well. Obviously, sometimes accidents occurred. However, even when a trainee with a dagger in his eye screamed while kneeling on the floor with his head down and blood dripping from his face, the people training with him did not turn their attention.—In the world of survival of the fittest, blood and screams were like everyday things. And knowing that the cost of the trainee’s slight flinching was the direct cause of the accident, everyone only clenched their teeth and struggled not to move.
Training like that—that was how the Heavenly Demon was made.
Lucas, I don’t know how much blood you have seen on the battlefield, but the blood that I, as Baek Joong-hyuk, witnessed was enough to flow and make an ocean.
Lucas surrendered. He threw away his sword and made it clear that he had no intention of fighting anymore. The test was now over. However, Lucas and the other volunteers only stood in place and watched, thinking that Lucas would be punished.
‘If I had known something like this would happen, I wouldn’t have even thought of using sand.’
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Lucas’ original plan was different.—He was trying pass by holding on for one minute, regardless of any means or method. However, in the end, he surrendered. Obviously, he knew how ugly this was—Even if their necks were blown away, those who were called warriors did not dare to speak of surrender. Nevertheless, Lucas was not like that. He was a realist. Recognizing his last-ditch plan had utterly failed, he was momentarily overwhelmed by his opponent and surrendered.
‘He must be disappointed in me. No, he probably didn’t even expect anything great in the first place.’—He swallowed his saliva and awaited punishment.
He might be mad at me or announce that I am eliminated in front of everyone.—Lucas thought his greed had ruined the situation. However, he would still have made the same judgment if he could turn back time. Lucas was such a person. Seeing the blood on the frontlines, he had to live without shame to survive in a place like that.
At that moment, Lucas looked up at Roman with a bewildered expression. He did not get angry, nor did he ask why Lucas had committed the foul. The only word he said was ‘Next’—That meant Lucas didn’t do anything wrong and didn’t need to be punished. Thus, even a B-class mercenary who had experienced many things in the world couldn’t hide his bewildered expression due to Roman Dmitry.