SETP Vol. 4 Chapter 11
Chapter 11 – Plating
“…shit, this hurts.”
The pain showed no signs of relenting. I rubbed my right cheek that was struck by Grimnaught’s fist as I glared at him.
I could tell even from a distance that the spot I struck had turned bright red, yet —
“Come on!! Come on come on COME ON! HAHAHAHAHA!!! What’s your next move, boy!? Entertain me more!! Let me taste true excitement!! HAHAHA, HAHAHAHA!!!”
Unlike me, he didn’t seem affected at all. All I did was pour water into the ocean.
He might keep laughing like that even with all limbs severed…no, I could tell for sure he’d enjoy that too. He’s a battle fanatic too, after all. Or so I said to myself.
“You’re way too energetic, man…”
He looked slightly over 30 years old.
He definitely wasn’t older than my father, but he definitely was old enough to have a bit more composure.
I moved my gaze away from the boisterous Grimnaught.
To the man who had not shown a single motion and simply watched the situation — Elena’s other guard, Ulle.
“…your name was Ulle, right? I’ll keep this guy occupied, get out of this place and…”
Go to Elena’s side, is what I wanted to say.
I changed my words at the last second.
I couldn’t finish the sentence though.
My instincts told me something was off. Something unknown that made my facial muscles tense.
A new possibility surfaced in my mind.
An answer that I reached probably because I trusted no one among the people present.
“…whose side are you on?”
That question was the turning point.
For some reason, I felt the puzzle complete itself in my head.
“Whose side…? Whatever do you mean?”
Ulle looked at me with a smile, so natural it was almost creepy and replied without hesitation. That was more than enough for me to understand he was lying.
My perception of him changed completely.
Ulle was supposed to be Elena’s guard, but he was not an ally.
“…no, nothing. Those words were all I needed.”
There were many bizarre circumstances around Elena already. Why was she so sure the “Time Magic” was in these ruins? How could a princess escape the fall of her kingdom so easily?
More than anything, *why was she so frail*?
According to Elena’s conversation with Cohen, her country had been brought to ruin: all of her family and the citizens probably died as well. If she was saved, she had likely witnessed that person protect her with their own life. If Elena was spared because she was the princess, she had surely witnessed such an event more than once.
She was supposed to have already experienced how cruel reality could be; how could she believe like that in something like “Time Magic”? Anyone could realize there was no way it existed, just thinking about it calmly.
She was definitely going to despair…
The moment she learned that the person she considered family who protected her was just waiting for the right chance for betrayal.
“That’s a cruel story for sure.”
Now that I recall, Cohen mentioned how strong Abominations were produced.
The source was —
“You don’t look surprised though.”
Grimnaught interrupted my thoughts, the tone of his voice tinged with glee.
“It has nothing to do with me, after all.”
“Ha, hahaha!! Hahahaha!! You’re supposed to get furious here!!”
“I should have raged and called him an inhuman monster, you say? Nonsense. If saying that would mean something, maybe…but it’s more than clear that it wouldn’t change a thing.”
Oversleeping was a pointless activity that I was very fond of.
Originally, however, I was the kind of person that hated pointless things. Why spend any time or effort, if the result was going to be the same? There was no pride or anything for me to uphold either.
“As far as I can tell, Elena was honestly trusting you, Ulle. The relationship between you two was probably real too. I don’t know if you’re going to betray her, or were betraying her from the start, you probably have something important to protect. Rather than getting too involved in someone’s complicated circumstances, I’d rather eliminate them, as an obstacle on my path. It’s just easier.”
“…honestly, this kid right here just saw through you completely…shouldn’t you work on your poker face, Ulle, or whatever your name is?”
Grimnaught was probably aware of his circumstances: if looks could kill, Ulle would have stabbed him to death right now.
Grimnaught did not seem to care, however, and kept smiling as usual.
Ulle’s identity as an enemy was proven. My gaze then turned to Cohen.
“You knew, but said nothing, didn’t you.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
He also played dumb about the whole thing.
Cohen Socaccio — Heart Scan’s ability was to “read” both organic and inorganic creatures. Their thoughts, memories, anything.
He could surely read Ulle’s inner thoughts as well. He said nothing to me however.
Could that be a sign that Cohen had no intention to keep the promise he made with me? Or was he putting me to the test?
For Grimnaught — it was needless to say, but Cohen probably wanted to see me draw my sword as well.
To decide whether to really lend me a hand or to cut off all ties with me. I felt that was the reason why he did not tell me anything, and I felt irritated.
Because it meant that he was completely looking down on me.
I couldn’t help but grin.
A hideous fake laugh, as unbearable to watch as ever. This time, however, a sort of anger was mixed in this murky laugh of mine.
“Hey, Cohen Socaccio. You’ve looked inside me once, didn’t you? So you already know what kind of person I am. Isn’t that right?”
What my reason was for wielding the sword.
What I prided myself in.
What I wished to protect.
Why I laughed.
Why I, I, I, I…
Cohen was supposed to know what I had to do to keep being myself. My words stopped before I asked, though, as I knitted my brow.
Why was I seeking the understanding of a man I had barely met? He might have looked inside my head, but whether he could understand me was a completely different question. The feelings that welled inside me as I formed the questions I had for him finally quieted down.
After all, It was a lost cause from the start. No one other than me understood the jumbled mess that was my train of thought.
“…aah…no, wait. That’s not it. Sorry, that was just wrong.”
I looked away from Cohen, back to Grimnaught.
“By the way, you asked me if I can still laugh, didn’t you? Let me answer that question. I have to laugh, you see. I have to keep laughing, no matter what situation I’m in.”
Because that was…
That was the only thing left to me by a pitiful man who lost the reason and chance to die at the right time and place.
“There’s one single reason for that. Since a long time ago. It’s the one thing that never changed.”
“Ooh? Do let me know that reason of yours then.”
“Because I’m not the same as you.”
How much easier would it be to live if I found pleasure in pain or fighting, like Grimnaught did?
『Don’t let anyone look down on you.』
Those words were the reason why I always smiled like an idiot, no matter how serious I felt inside.
Don’t let anyone look down on you. You can’t let anyone look down on you, so you must live while hiding your true expressions. Smile, laugh, sneer.
To feel sentimental before a single corpse, to feel like that when you end someone’s life, no matter how weak you are, is completely right.
Someone saying things like that, despite not having the power to change the world, is nothing but a hopeless idiot.
Hopelessly weak, with a sword that shows hesitation. That’s the kind of person I was, that’s why my mentor taught me. He taught me to laugh, always.
“You’re not the same as me…? I see, I see…now I see it!! So that’s your plating.”
That’s right, this laugh was just a mask, just a makeshift cover hiding my face.
“I don’t understand one thing, though. Why would you reveal that to me?”
“There’s no reason to say that to you, that’s right, but there’s plenty with sunglasses over there. Saying it to one or two people is the same for me. So I did. Nothing more. Besides, unlike in the past, it’s not a weakness anymore.”
“You wanted to tell Cohen Socaccio?”
Grimnaught glanced at the man I called “sunglasses”.
“For what reason?”
“Because I don’t like how he does things. That’s all.”
Cohen acted as he did completely on purpose. He had read inside my mind, he had to know. About my pride and my way of thinking. How I despised fighting.
…how I was made to realize, time and again, then I had nothing to cling to but my sword.
He surely also knew how in my memories of my mentor and the others, a sword drenched in blood where battles were always at the center.
That’s why I couldn’t forgive him. That’s why I felt humiliated, looked down upon.
Why did Cohen think he was in the position to put me to the test? Because he was curious to see my “Spada”? Aah, honestly, you people sure got guts.
“Looks like you misunderstood something, Cohen Socaccio.”
“What are you….?”
“The reason why I started laughing like an idiot is because I was weak. Because my opponents were too strong for me to defeat without doing so.”
This broken laughter was now a habit. A crazy, broken, rotten laughing mask.
“You think a bit too highly of yourself, Cohen Socaccio. Haven’t you been taught that excessive confidence leads to ruin?…don’t get the wrong idea, you’re nothing like them. *I can cut down the whole empire, you included.*”
That would mean taking down the mastermind too, after all.
As I said those words, I heard a burst of laughter. The loudest roar of laughter of the day, in fact.
“…hahaha…HAHAHA!! HAHAHAHAHA!!! You alone, destroy a whole country!? All by yourself!? HAHAHA!! This is rich!! But I commend you for saying that!! All the more reason for our duel. Or rather, no one other than me would be more fitting as your opponent!!”
Grimnaught flashed one of the brightest smiles I had ever seen, then continued.
“Draw your sword, boy!!! I shall be the judge. Judge of your sword and your words! I, Grimnaught Izak, will see if you really speak the truth!”
I didn’t pay much attention to his words, unfortunately. Because I was busy thinking while he spoke.
The silver lining, so to speak, was that my thoughts and Grimnaught’s words matched perfectly.
— I couldn’t let go of my pride. I couldn’t turn my back on my oath. More than anything, I couldn’t take down the ruins left by Rudolf. I couldn’t stand it.
I could have endured it if I was the only one to be looked down upon.
But my mentor and the others were being looked down upon now. I couldn’t suppress those feelings.
“I wonder why.”
I muttered to myself.
I would rather rip my tongue out than proclaim myself as strong, but I just couldn’t accept anyone other than my mentor and companions calling me weak. I couldn’t stand it.
You people…you people really have guts. It’s time for you to taste death.
“Normally, I’d just let those words roll off my back, but for some reason, I can’t do it this time. Maybe because this is the place Rudolf left? I might be subconsciously feeling that I can’t show something so pathetic here.”
Once you let others look down on you, only death awaited. You would be judged as someone easy to kill. And soon enough, the reaper would come to visit.
Everyone born in that era shared this kind of thinking.
The opposite was also true.
“—in the end, it always turns out like this.”
Just like a curse.
As if the fourteen years I spent without touching my sword meant nothing. As soon as I wielded it, disaster and misfortune came in droves. Just like now…
It was truly a curse.
A pitiful man trapped in his past, who decided to wield his sword to protect others, now was about to pick it up on a mere whim…
I thought I prepared myself for this, but this side of me really wouldn’t change. This morbid dependence was never going to leave me.
“— one slash, one kill. My heart, my body is forever a battlefield.”
I recited my oath, with a voice void of all emotion.
The very instant I did, the world around me slowed down.
I then grabbed not the sword at my waist, but the “Spada” that rose from the shadows in front of me.
These ruins were built by Rudolf and Traum. Thinking that they were watching over me, I knew I wasn’t allowed any mistakes.
That was probably the reason.
The reason why I could pull off a feat just like the days when I killed and killed, until I was called “Sword Demon”.
“You’ve got more openings than I thought.”
I spotted a gap in my opponent’s guard and pointed it out. An opening so small it lasted less than a blink. The me that killed “Abominations” from dawn to dusk, however, would not let such an opportunity go. The me from that time would not ignore the space of a single breath.
“ —Time for you to taste death.”
A cutting, carving sensation transmitted to my arms through my “Spada”.
I had to make up an excuse for Dvorg’s request…and Rudolf, sorry to be so impatient.
I silently apologized to them in my mind, then swung my sword.