67. Passing Everyday
The season is winter.
Although it hardly snows in the Armand Kingdom, Dragon’s Peak is practically covered in white snow.
I wonder what Mistral is doing around now. Has she been able to find the clan secretly colluding with the mazoku? Is she healthy? Are there days she thinks of me, even just a little?
I wonder if Priscilla-chan and Nymia are energetically playing together today too.
Ruiseine went to the moss-covered plaza a few days ago and was played with by them to the point of exhaustion. She seems to have asked Old Sleigstar what I’m up to back when she met him but hasn’t directly asked me about my progress.
Quite a while has passed since I started commuting towards Gild-san’s house. Everyday, after school, without fail, everyday, I head to the northern area of the royal capital where Gild-san lives.
There is only one reason for it.
It’s all for overcoming Gild-san and receiving his treasure. Apparently, I’ll be able to receive it by defeating him in a swordfight. However, that’s a despairingly severe condition, one I realized on the first day I visited. Although he comes off as a gentle ojii-san, he transforms upon taking up a sword. He captures me with a sharp gaze that doesn’t leave any gaps.
I’ve challenged him a countless number of times since the first day. I’ve fought him with the dragon ki I’ve refined to the limit and my Dragon Sword Dance I’ve tempered up to here, yet I can’t bare a fang against him.
For the Dragon Sword Dance, it is essential I draw my opponent into my dance. The opponent needs to be overwhelmed by the overflowing stream of movements and be led around. Weapons and martial arts are both unleashed without pause in a cooperation that guides my body, that is the dance itself.
Gild-san, however, cuts through my dance. I can endure his strike and deflect it, but my stance will be destroyed. Even when I turn and kick, he calmly defends against it without showing any pain. The flow of my dance is stopped, and I can’t continue further.
Even when I had matches with Mistral, she often stopped my techniques with her strength. At those times, I’d wonder what I could do. Mistral would always show me how to best overcome those situations, but instead of being able to make use of those strategies, my moves were read through and destroyed.
No matter what I do or how I struggle, I can’t bare my fangs at all in these matches. I keep losing without being able to exchange any blows.
At this rate, I really might lose Mistral. My growing frustration is throwing off my dance. Whether Gild-san is aware of my unease or not, other than when we are having a match, he treats me gently.
Except for during matches, Gild-san really is a nice person. Unable to watch me continue losing, he kindly tells me my mistakes and how he keeps reading my movements after the match. Furthermore, he taught me various techniques in his spare time. He taught me clever little tricks that could be incorporated into the Dragon Sword Dance along with various techniques for confronting larger opponents.
Gild-san is a Dragon Tribesman after all. The various techniques he taught me were all advanced techniques that made free use of dragon ki.
While receiving Gild-san’s guidance, I again head to his simple stone house in the northern most part of the royal capital today for the sake of defeating him. By running to his house, I’m able to warm my body and keep from feeling the cold. Upon arriving, I start by greeting Gild-san and then mediate in order to replenish my dragon ki.
Gild-san who watches over my mediation is impressed and praises me. Even compared to the Dragon Tribesmen, there doesn’t seem to be anyone who can meditate as deeply as me or be able to freely draw power from the dragon vein.
My meditation finishes once my dragon power is full. We then have a match without delay.
According to Gild-san, the current me needs matches closer to actual combat more than to practice the form of the Dragon Sword Dance. Certainly, I’ve been feeling the same way recently. Even if I go through the forms of the Dragon Sword Dance, Gild-san prevents it. If I break away from the pattern, I become unable to keep up like just now. The reason for this is because I depend too much on the pattern, but unless I find a way to somehow or another pull this off, I won’t defeat Gild-san.
When I prepare my two swords, it’s the signal for either of us to strike. Lately, I’ve been initiating more attacks. I lose in an instant when I defend. As such, attacking is my only option.
I make the best of the Dragon Sword Dance’s numerous moves to assault Gild-san. I unleash a wave of slashes followed up by a kick. However, Gild-san defends against my attack with precise sword judgement and catches my leg. My leg is pulled and my posture crumbles. Then, without leaving a gap, he flips the offense.
Gild-san’s sword technique is phantasmagoric. The moment I think he’s coming down for the front, the saber is springing at head height. If I hurry and avoid it, my posture will be destroyed. Afterwards, I’ll be defeated without having exchanged any blows.
We have ten matches that day as well, but I wonder if our swords collided even one hundred times.
By the time the sun is starting to drop, I’m laying on the ground exhausted and panting. Even though the winter is said to be cold, my body is soaked in sweat.
“You’ve still a ways to go, your movements are stiff.”
Gild-san comes up to where I am with water in his hands. He then sits down and gives it to me.
I rise up, thank him for the water, and drink. It shocks my burning throat.
“Ernea is too honest.”
“What do you mean?”
As my breathing calms down, I look at Gild-san.
“The Dragon Sword Dance, you can understand the entirety of its magnificence through the technique. Unless it’s someone like me, you probably wouldn’t be losing so easily time and time again.”
“That’s to say, Gild-san is incredibly strong, right?”
“Fuhaha, do I appear weak?”
The corners of Gild-san’s eyes come together as he gives a gentle laugh. He doesn’t come off as a master swordsman from appearances alone. However, nothing could be further from the truth. He could easily be many times stronger than Ruiseine. If anything, isn’t his strength comparable with Mistral’s?
“From appearances, you look like a gentle ojii-san.”
At my wry smile, Gild-san narrows his eye and touches his long beard.
“If that is the impression I’m giving you, that’s by my intention.”
Gild-san casually lifts a rock the size of a person’s head that’s by his feet.
“I thought that rock was heavy?”
At those words, Gild-san places the rock by my side.
Maybe it’s made of pumice stone? With that thought in mind, I reach for the rock, but it’s so heavy I can’t lift it.
“Hahaha, it really is heavy.”
Gild-san gives a pleasant laugh at my reaction.
“It’s like that.”
“What is? I don’t understand a thing.”
I tilt my head.
“In other words, Ernea is easy to deceive. You’re an honest and gentle child.”
“Ernea, because you saw me lift the stone with one hand, you concluded it was light. Then when it was placed beside you, you tried to lift it.”
“Yes, that’s exactly it.”
“Except, that was my trap. I thoroughly lead you into it.”
Really? This series of events was by the mechanisms of Gild-san who read through my actions and thoughts?
“Battles are the same. No, they’re even more so. Victory is achieved by utilizing deception, trickery, and misdirection to draw your opponents into your pace. If you can’t do that, you’ll never be first class.”
I understand very well what Gild-san is saying. I’ve been struggling over how to bring Gild-san into the flow of my Dragon Sword Dance. Yet, he always reads through my moves and cuts through them.
“You’ll never win with a sword that is too honest. From now on, you’ll find yourself in various situations where you will have to win no matter what.”
“Eetto, now is a situation where I have to win no matter what.”
“If that’s the case, think about hands other than those that are pristine. Show your determination to win no matter what kind of dirty play you have to use. Only beautiful things can be seen from you. Or, are you merely all talk, truly believing you don’t need to win? Are you holding a naive expectation that I will go easy on you in the end?”
“No, such a thought never occurred to me.”
I bite my lips.
As Gild-san says, I must defeat Gild-san and I have to do within this year. There already aren’t many days left until then.
I have to win no matter what. I will win. For that goal, it seems like I cannot remain as I am.
What is dirty? I’m not too sure, but right now I’m too caught up with the Dragon Sword Dance. I probably won’t be able to beat Gild-san in my lifetime like this.
How do I defeat Gild-san this year? I can’t come up with a method no matter how much I fret about it.
“In a battle between masters, there are times neither side so much as quivers.”
At Gild-san’s words, I focus my attention on him.
“It becomes a mental battle, one where neither side moves as they each read the other’s next move.”
I nod as Gild-san speaks. There are many tales portraying adversaries facing off against each other with neither side moving.
“In battle, psychological warfare is just as important as the techniques in hand. I said it just now, but how will you deceive your opponents, read through their movements, or lead them around? If you lose the psychological front, then you’ll also lose the battle. The present Ernea is only dancing on the palm of my hand.”
“In other words, I’ve been losing the psychological battle this whole time.”
“That’s right. I believe you’ve been seeing me as either a withered old man or someone with a gentle demeanor.”
Since it’s exactly as Gild-san says, I fumble with my words.
“Well then, that’s my advice. How to take it depends on Ernea.”
Gild-san stands up and walks for his house.
“You should head home for today. It’s already late, your parents must be worried.”
Gild-san waves backwards at me in farewell.
I thank him for today and give my farewells before then standing up.
What can I do with remaining short time I have left? I no longer have enough time to learn any new techniques. The key must lie in being dirty like Gild-san said.
I run home while reflecting on today’s matches.
I don’t want to lose Mistral. One way or another, I have to beat Gild-san. For that, I won’t hold back with anything. Not even on being sly, crafty, or dirty.
T/N: Thinking about it, those new techniques could just be another way of Gild strumming Ernea along. What better way to know a person than to be the one to teach him the new techniques. I can think of one way to get an advantage though, show up with some friends and surprise him with numbers after starting the one on one. Although, that one might be a foul.