The Birth of a New Sword King
THREE SWORD SAINTS were gathered in the Sword Sanctum’s Ephemeral Hall, each one of them on one knee. There was Nina Falion, Gino Britz, and Eris Greyrat. Standing before them was the Sword God, Gall Falion.
He stood with at ease as he glared down at his pupils, who all had their hands over the swords at their hips. Slowly, he said, “Your swordplay has already surpassed the level of sword saint.”
Gino’s shoulders twitched.
“It’s almost time to recognize the first sword king since Ghislaine.”
Gino’s eyes went wide. He clenched his fist, trembling. An indescribable emotion swept over him. He wanted to jump up and shout, but he tamped down on the urge. He had yet to identify what this sensation was. It wasn’t a bad one, that much he knew.
The Sword God, however, wasn’t finished.
“Before we do that, I have a question.”
Everyone waited silently.
“What do you three think separates a sword saint, a sword king, and a sword emperor?”
“Strength?” Nina blurted.
It was clear from their collective expressions that they couldn’t fathom any other answer. Yet at the same time, they also knew it wasn’t that simple—the Sword God wanted to know what came after that strength. What else separated them?
“Nina. What did your teacher tell you to do before acquiring the Sword of Light?”
Nina’s teacher wasn’t Gall Falion. The person who had mentored her was Gino’s father, Timothy Britz. She reflected on the man’s teachings and replied, “He said, ‘Since you’re right-handed, train your left hand.’ He told me I wouldn’t be able to release the Sword of Light until I could perfectly wield a sword in my left hand.”
“That’s right. Your non-dominant hand is important for using the Sword of Light. Do you understand why?”
“If you tense your dominant hand, it will cause the blade to shift to the side.”
“Yes. You need to invest all of your Battle Aura into the attack and cut in a straight line. It’s simple, but that is the innermost secret of the Sword of Light technique.”
Swordsmanship was all about cutting down a moving target. If you charged straight in and used a frontal attack, anyone could dodge it easily. That was why sword-wielders attacked from below, the side, or diagonally—using unpredictable moves to catch their enemy off guard.
However, the first Sword God was different. He didn’t need those tricks. Instead, he cut down everything by moving faster than his opponent could react.
“This secret is embedded in the Sword God style’s history.” Gall struck his nails against the hilt of his sword. “Each generation of Sword God has worked to slowly unravel the inexplicable techniques the first Sword God cultivated. That is what led us to the current form of the Sword God style. Once you understand the innermost secrets of the Sword of Light, the principle behind it, and how to practice using it, it’s very simple. Anyone with a little talent can easily learn to wield it. That led to the age of the Sword God style being considered the strongest. We can hold our heads up proudly thanks to the first Sword God and his predecessors who unlocked the secrets of his techniques.”
Again, his fingers drummed against the hilt of his sword.
“The Sword of Light is the Sword God style’s best technique. Practitioners of other styles would call it our secret technique. However, there are some who grasp the essence of it better than others. Sword saints, sword kings, sword emperors, and the Sword God… Kinda strange, really. We’re all doin’ the same thing, but some of us are stronger and some of us are weaker.”
Gall turned his gaze to Gino. “What do you think makes the difference, Gino? Answer me.”
Gino lifted his chin, face pulled into a nervous expression. He had no idea what the answer was, but he felt pressured to answer quickly. “Th-the ability to think logically, to move skillfully…uh, body strength…or m-maybe weapon quality…?”
“Weapon quality?! How many years have you been training for, boy? You sure you don’t need to go back and start from the basics?!” Gall barked at him.
“M-my apologies!” Gino’s face went pale as he dropped his gaze.
What Gino really wanted to say was ‘talent’, but he knew well that wasn’t the response the Sword God desired. There was no way a question that complex could be answered in a single word. After all, they were discussing the intricacies of talent right now. If Gino said something that stupid, Gall might drive him out entirely.
“You don’t know ’cause you’re still just a kid, huh? Doesn’t matter. The strong are still strong, whether they understand it or not. All right, Nina, you answer.”
Nina considered her answer carefully. Most likely, he was asking what separated them from those who outranked them. It had to be something Sword Kings and the like had that Nina and her fellow sword saints did not.
Come to think of it, the people in those positions—Sword God, sword Emperor, etc—all had life partners. She wanted that, too. A boyfriend or a husband…
Nina glanced over at Gino. He still had his gaze glued to the floor, a vexed look on his face. He was younger than her, but lately, she’d taken quite an interest in him…
Suddenly, a word occurred to her that she often heard the Sword God use.
“Is it desire?”
“Huh, well, you sure have been maturing a lot more lately, acting more feminine. Just what I’d expect from a daughter of mine.”
He laughed, seeing straight through her. Nina didn’t react. She had practiced to make sure that these kinds of things wouldn’t get under her skin.
“Desire…well, you’re not wrong there. But how long can your own desire endure?”
“What do you mean by that?”
“For instance, if I told you that you have to choose between marrying Gino and becoming a Sword King, which would you pick?”
At the mention of marriage, Gino and Nina traded glances. Her cheeks flushed slightly.
“…I would pick becoming a Sword King.”
In other words, she would abandon the chance to marry Gino. That showed the limits of her own desires. She realized belatedly that her answer had been a mistake.
“Naive as ever.” He snorted with laughter as she dropped her gaze. Gall then turned his attention to the last member of their group. “What about you, Eris?”
“Determination, huh? Nope, that’s wrong too.” He chuckled and dismissed her.
Eris, however, merely glared back at him and said, “No, it’s not. Determination is the right answer.”
In the back of her mind, she saw Orsted stabbing Rudeus through the chest. She remembered lamenting how powerless she was as he crumpled to the ground.
She had become stronger since then. Her power and speed were on a completely different level. However, it wasn’t enough to beat Orsted. After years of training, Eris had glimpsed the limits of her abilities. No matter how much she trained, she would never reach Orsted’s level. It wasn’t an exaggeration. She knew she would never be able to defeat him on her own.
But it would be a different story if she was with Rudeus. Together, they might be able to accomplish it. With his magic and her sword skills, they could win.
Even if I had to sacrifice myself to pin Orsted down, Rudeus would land the final blow.
If Rudeus won, that would also be a win for Eris. She would die, of course, but Rudeus would live on. It meant she would lose out on sharing a future with him, but she didn’t mind that. Dwelling on the future would only make her lose her nerve, and losing her nerve would make her sword dull. A dull sword meant they would both die. If anyone was going to lose their life, it would be her. Eris was determined to pursue that outcome—or perhaps one might say she was resigned to it.
“Then you don’t care if you can’t become a Sword King?” Gall asked.
“That doesn’t really matter to me.”
“I thought you wanted to get stronger.”
“Yes, I do. But a title doesn’t change how strong a person is, does it?”
Pleased, the Sword God muttered, “All right. Eris and Nina, whichever one of you can beat the other will be named Sword King.”
Gino’s shoulders slumped in defeat.
Nina and Eris faced one another.
Each of them wielded a wooden sword. Although it didn’t seem like a lethal weapon, in the hands of two sword saints, it could easily be used to end another’s life.
“This brings back memories of the first time I came here.”
It had been several years since Ghislaine first brought Eris to the Sword Sanctum. Eris had been like a wild animal, and because of her Nina had tasted humiliation. After all, she had wet herself in front of Gino and the other sword saints. Just remembering the incident was enough to make Nina want to cover her face and writhe in agony.
That said, she held no hatred for Eris. Thanks to Eris, she had become stronger. She discarded her pride and immersed herself completely in her training. Her humiliation was what motivated her.
Nina confidently asserted, “Today I will be the victor.”
Bloodlust spilled off Eris in waves, but Nina didn’t flinch. She was like an enlightened monk-in-training the way she stared at Eris with a cool, composed expression.
In the next instant, all hostility from Eris vanished. Her expression was the polar opposite of Nina’s; she was smiling maniacally, like a predator staring down its prey. The way her disturbing grin stretched from ear to ear was enough to make anyone shiver.
An instinctive fear sparked inside Nina. Many times had they traded blows under Water King Isolde’s training, and Nina had lost. Of course, there were times when she won, too. But memories of defeat stood out sharpest in her mind. Particularly because each time Nina lost, Eris had that grin on her face.
Eris wasn’t moving. She remained deathly still, that bestial smile on her face. This was rare for her, considering she was always the first to make a move. She was waiting to counter her attacks, Nina thought. She had faced counters numerous times when she fought Isolde. Eris couldn’t use Water God style techniques, but the North God style also possessed counters. That was most likely what Eris was aiming for.
Silence hung in the air. Eris held her weapon at shoulder level, while Nina held hers above her head. They both stood perfectly still, only one step away from the other. Nina’s face was expressionless, while Eris wore a big grin on hers. The two resembled a couple of eerie statues, the way they stared at one another without so much as flinching. This stillness was unusual for two students of the Sword God style, which preached that the first to make a move would be the victor.
Neither one of them dared move. It was Gall Falion who finally breathed a sigh.
“How long are the two of you gonna stand there and stare at each other?”
Those words were the trigger. Nina was the first to move. She took a confident step forward. Footwork she had done some ten thousand times over the course of her training. The way she moved her legs was logical—optimal, even—and energy surged through her torso. Nina blended this energy with her Battle Aura, sending it down her arm and into her blade—Sword of Light. This skill, touted as the fastest of all, rushed toward Eris.
Nina’s technique was impeccable. Anyone who saw it would be amazed, struck speechless by its perfection. But…
A heavy force slammed into Nina’s stomach, rocketing her backward. Her body crashed into the wall before crumpling to the ground. Her uniform was shredded, leaving her toned stomach visible. A large red welt slowly spread across her skin. A burning sensation shot through her body.
“Enough!” declared the Sword God.
Nina stared blankly at Eris. Sweat dripped off the latter’s forehead. Her uniform was slightly split at the shoulder, but she was otherwise unscathed. That smile had also disappeared from her face. She stood there proudly as the victor.
Nina understood what had happened. Eris stepped forward at the same time that Nina made her move. And while Nina swung down from above, Eris dropped her body low and released her own Sword of Light from the side.
What Nina didn’t understand was why. Her own technique should have landed first. She’d made the opening move, and her sword was ever so slightly faster than Eris’s. Moreover, she had swung from above, which was the fastest attack position. Even accounting for some slight miscalculations, her attack should have landed before Eris’s. But their battle didn’t even end in a draw. Why was she slumped against the wall while Eris remained standing?
“You don’t need overwhelming power to beat a person,” Eris said quietly.
Nina didn’t understand.
Eris had used a North God-style technique. Ordinarily, Sword of Light was overkill on most opponents. Eris had diverted its power into speed instead. She made it so her attack was only just lethal enough to knock down her opponent, which made her execution that much faster. It wasn’t just brute strength but the distribution of her Battle Aura.
This was a technique she learned from her training with the North Emperor. The added speed it gave her was honestly negligible, compared to how much attack power she sacrificed to achieve it. Yet this difference, little more than a hair’s breadth, was what it took to claim victory.
“Magnificent, Eris. I give you the title of Sword King.”
Nina slowly peeled herself off the floor. Her face contorted as her stomach throbbed with a dull pain.
She completely outdid me.
Because they were using wooden swords, she had merely been thrown back and bruised. If Eris had used a real sword, it would have plunged right through Nina’s heart. A comparatively weak attack, considering the normal power of a Sword of Light could cleave a person’s body in two, but it was still enough to kill. As Eris had only sustained a tear in the shoulder of her uniform, that was more than enough to qualify her as the victor. Nina had lost completely.
Nina sighed and sat on the floor, stretching her back out. She’d lost this duel in every way. The opening move was hers, and she was still defeated. I lost, completely and utterly. It’s over. A heavy, oppressive weight settled on her chest.
“Feeling vexed, Nina?” asked the Sword God.
Large tears rolled down her cheeks.
“You still have room to grow. Buck up.”
That day, for the first time in a very long time, she called Gall her father rather than her master.
The Sword God waited quietly for her tears to dry. Eris returned to frowning, crossing her arms over her chest as she stood nearby.
Once Nina finished sniffling, Gall turned to Eris and said, “I will give you the title of Sword King, but I have nothing more to teach you. You are a Master.”
A Master, as the name implied, was someone who had achieved complete mastery in the style. Nina and Gino traded looks. The two sword emperors and even Sword King Ghislaine had never received the title of Master. That was how exclusive such recognition was.
“I can also give you the title of sword emperor while I’m at it…but in that case, you will have to battle Ghislaine. If you want to go further and call yourself Sword God, you will need to kill me.” He placed a hand on the hilt of his sword as if challenging her to answer.
Eris shook her head. “The title of Sword God doesn’t matter to me.”
“Figured you’d say that. Well, then, what are you gonna do now?”
“First, I’ll return to my family.”
As the Sword God gazed into her eyes, he was struck by how bright they were. Eris had always carried a sense of loss with her. If she continued her quest to become stronger and didn’t lose sight of her original objective, perhaps she could actually bring down the invincible Orsted. Such was the potential that Gall sensed in her.
“Come, Eris. As proof that you are a Sword King, I shall give you one of my seven blades.”
That day, Eris Greyrat’s long years of training came to an end.
As Eris and the Sword God left, the ceremony to determine the new Sword King officially ended. Only Nina and Gino remained in the room.
For a while, they sat in silence. Both were overcome with frustration and envy, but neither one would let it show on their faces, nor would they speak of it.
Silently, they both stood up and walked shoulder-to-shoulder over to the edge of the Ephemeral Hall where the wooden swords were kept. Each of them reached for a weapon.
Shortly thereafter, the clang of their blades could be heard echoing through the room. It was a common symphony that rang through the Sword Sanctum daily, and as the two trained, so too did that rhythmic tune continue.