48 – Demon Knight Bernhagen (6)
Argo, Ahtangga’s knight.
Regarded as a strong figure even within Ahtangga, a knight known for never faltering and swiftly making judgments in any situation. However, at this moment, Argo felt perplexed.
The unfolding situation was that absurd.
When the demon knight Bernhagen wielded his authority, Argo was considerably taken aback. It was a magical power far exceeding expectations, and it was the first time encountering such a type of ability: the power to create a barrier completely isolated from the outside.
Still, he could quickly handle it up to that point.
The skilled Argo made an immediate decision within the demonic barrier.
The young man who was in battle with the demon is in danger. Although he had been holding his ground until now, he cannot do so anymore from within the barrier. Therefore, he needs help.
“Break the barrier!”
A method to bypass and conquer the demon’s abilities.
As a member of the Atanga, a group primarily responsible for managing knights and subduing demons, Argos had extensive knowledge about demons. However, interpreting and bypassing the barrier still required a long time.
Suddenly, the barrier weakened and they seized the opportunity to break through and entered its interior. Despite entering the interior, Argos couldn’t hide his bitterness. If this much time had passed, it was highly likely that the young man had already met his demise.
Nevertheless, Argos shouted.
“Protect the young man!”
Protect the young man and kill the demon knight.
Even if the young man had already met his demise, they must ensure that his body remains intact. With that thought in mind, Argos raised his voice, but…
The ones they encountered upon entering the barrier were not demon knights, and the body of the young man was not there either. What greeted them as they approached was the split body of the demon knight Verrenheigen…
They widened their eyes.
It was the young man, looking at them with a surprised expression.
Finally, with the barrier completely shattered, sunlight poured in. Warm sunlight. The split body of Verrenheigen lying face down on the floor, and Nazine standing untouched without a single scratch.
The situation had completely gone against all expectations.
To maintain composure even in such a situation and make a rational judgment…
“What in the world is going on?”
Even if he was Argos, it was an unreasonable demand.
The situation was urgent.
Nazine saw the ones who broke through the barrier. Instinctively, he placed his hand towards the sheath at his waist, but Nazine soon relaxed his guard.
Because of the patterns engraved on their armor.
The intersecting swords and shield patterns drawn on them. Nazine knew those patterns. It was a story he had heard from Eba someday, and it was a pattern he had looked up in books when he went outside.
“The Atanga Knights…”
Beings who uphold the old code of knights.
And the order that Eba belonged to. With wide eyes, Nazine looked at the knights. They were also looking at Nazine. Each of their gazes contained different intentions, but regardless, the knights and Nazine looked at each other.
The first one to move was Najin.
Lowering his hand, which was about to draw his sword, Najin asked them a question.
“Are you the Knights of Atangga?”
“···The knights of Atangga, Arugoda.”
The knight at the forefront.
Arugoda, who was in charge of this mission, took a step forward. He raised his hand and pointed towards the back of Najin. There lay the lifeless body of Bernhagen, clad in armor.
“You are the commander of the pursuing team sent to execute the author. Although it seems that there is no need for further pursuit···.”
Feeling taken aback, Arugoda lowered his hand.
He glanced at Najin standing before him. At best, he was a young man in his early twenties, barely old enough to have reached such a level.
‘The aura of the sword I saw earlier was···.’
Something that couldn’t be achieved at such a young age.
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Arugoda’s expression became narrow. It would be a real shame for a young man, but considering the possibility of having a connection with a demon due to abnormal achievements, it had to be suspected.
Arugoda is a hunter who ascended to Swordsieker.
His pupils were capable of seeing the mana flowing within an opponent’s body to some extent. If there were impurities mixed in the mana itself, unlike a contaminated lump, it would be necessary to suspect a connection with a demon. But···.
‘It’s clear. Extremely clear.’
Mana that was impeccably pure.
There was not even a trace of impurity, and it was as clear as a spring flowing deep in the mountains. It meant that there was no connection with a demon. Furthermore, there was no evidence of contamination in the mana.
‘It’s astonishing. Truly.’
Arugoda inwardly clicked his tongue.
Such pure mana was something he had never seen before. Seeing that there was no trace of contaminated mana, it seemed that the person had some means to resist against mana itself.
He wanted to ask many questions. There were many questions, but he knew what should take precedence.
He sheathed the drawn sword into its scabbard and hit his chest with his fist. Thumping on the pattern of Atangga engraved on his armor, Arugoda spoke.
“I express my gratitude to you.”
What must be done.
It was nothing other than expressing his gratitude.
“In place of Atangga, I show you my respect for punishing those who defiled the name of a knight.”
In succession, there were clanking sounds.
The Knights of Atangga standing behind him saluted Najin. The sound of armor and gauntlets clashing reverberated in the air.
Receiving their salute, Najin felt his heart swell inexplicably. In this fairy tale-like moment, the knights of this era, whose stories he had heard through his teacher, were standing before him.
“It is an honor.”
Awkwardly, but confidently, Najin saluted. After finishing his salute, Argo nodded.
“Excuse me, may I ask for an explanation of the situation?”
Najin took a deep breath and began his tale. He had already decided how to explain. The story didn’t last long.
The pursuit of Bernhagen.
During the chase, he encountered a knight he had met early on, and… heard the story from him.
“Knight of Trebache, Gilbert.”
With his help, they were able to track the target.
Bernhagen was worn out from earlier battles with knights and was injured. Exploiting that weakness allowed them to gain the upper hand.
He didn’t tell lies.
But he didn’t reveal everything either.
It wasn’t time to completely disclose his identity yet.
After hearing the whole story, Argo summarized it.
“You pursued the fatally wounded Bernhagen and subdued him here. Is that the sound of it?”
“And you exploited his weakness even within the barrier?”
“Yes, the wound on his shoulder…”
Najin pointed to the body of the fallen Bernhagen, clearly showing the scar on his shoulder.
Argo stroked his chin.
It made sense, but there were still suspicious corners. Above all, Argo had seen it. The overwhelming aura Najin displayed before the barrier was cast.
There was no justification to doubt him.
He had no right to investigate, as the opponent hiding his strength meant he had no right to expose or condemn it. If the young man in front of him had a connection with demons or concealed sinister intentions, it would be appropriate to inquire, but… it didn’t seem so.
In that case.
There was only one question Argo had to ask the young man in front of him.
“May I ask just one question?”
Argo said, and Najin nodded.
Argo looked at Najin straight in the eyes and spoke.
“Why did you defeat Bernhagen?”
Feel free to answer.
Whether you respond by saying you carried out the request, that it was for the bounty, or whatever else, it’s fine. With that, Argo added as he continued the conversation.
“Regardless of what answer you give to my question here, I swear I won’t harm you. It’s just a pure inquiry.”
The oath taken by the knights of Atanga.
Najin knew the weight of it. Therefore, at least for this question, he could answer without hiding. Najin slowly opened his mouth and pronounced.
“I didn’t like him.”
“… Didn’t like him?”
“During the clash with Bernhagen, I asked him a question. What is a knight to you?”
“And Bernhagen replied, ‘A knight is merely a position for advancement. Honor and pride are only valuable as cast-offs.'”
Argo’s expression crumpled at the values that Bernhagen, as expressed through Najin’s words, held as a knight. The knights of Atanga standing behind him bit their tongues and contorted their expressions.
“I didn’t like that.”
“The knight I envisioned wasn’t like that.”
“What is the knight you envision?”
Argo had planned to ask only one question, but he had no choice but to ask a second. He wanted to hear what the young man who had defeated the demon knight thought a knight should be.
“I don’t think it’s a story worth telling to the knights of Atanga. I’m not a knight myself.”
“Normally, it’s absurd for someone who isn’t a knight to discuss knights, but you’re an exception. Whatever the reason, by defeating the demon knight, you’ve proven your qualifications.”
You can speak.
The knights of Atanga, who upheld the traditions of knighthood for a long time, all looked at Najin. They listened intently to the story that would come from his lips.
And Najin spoke.
“One who doesn’t lose their pride.”
Regarding what a knight is, as obtained during the duel with the demon knight, Najin told the answer.
“Guarding what hasn’t been lost and striving to recover what has been lost…”
What is a knight?
In front of the knights of Atanga, who were knights among knights, Najin spoke those words.
“One who aims for the heights.”
“With pride and honor held close, one who pursues the stars in the lofty sky. That, to me, is the knight I envision. No, it is the knight I aspire to be.”
A moment of silence.
Soon after, laughter echoed from behind Argo. The knights of Atanga burst into laughter. Though he didn’t audibly laugh, a smile played on Argo’s lips.
It wasn’t a mocking laughter.
On the contrary, it was far from mockery.
Argo raised his hand. At his signal, the knights ceased their laughter. They stared silently at Najin. His pupils were softer than a moment ago, and the gaze toward Najin was friendly.
On behalf of them, Argo asked Najin.
“Is it a sincerity without a single falsehood?”
“I believe you.”
Argo smiled happily.
Because Najin’s pupils were not those of someone telling lies.
“Even if you fall, lose your honor, and descend into failure, striving to reclaim them… Someone might sneer at that as pitiful.”
Argo smiled slyly.
“I, we, think it’s beautiful. It means you still aspire to be a knight.”
“You seem to be speaking with the image of a certain knight in your mind. I can’t know who that knight in your head is, but truly, someone worth emulating.”
A knight of Atanga speaking about an exemplary knight.
Najin felt a stirring in his heart. He wished he could tell Ivan this story, and he wished Ivan were here.
“Pursuing the stars with pride and honor. That’s a good resonance. This is what we······.”
Argo removed his helmet.
Facing Najin without his helmet, he scratched the back of his neck. Revealed from the helmet was the face of a young man. To Sword Seeker, the physical age was just a number.
“Always asking with just one question. It’s becoming a habit.”
Facing Argo with his bare face, Najin responded with a slight smile.
“What is your name?”
It would probably be written on the contract.
But he wanted to hear the name directly from the young man in front of him. In response to that question, Najin fell silent for a moment.
“I hope that all the conversations we have in this place are only truthful.”
At the end of the silence, Najin spoke.
“So, I cannot tell you my name.”
If I were to mention my name, it would become a lie.
“Is that so.”
Najin turned around and said, and Argo understood those words. Argo never asked Najin’s name again.
“If that’s the case, then the answer to today’s question.”
Argo tapped his armor.
“Let me hear it after you become a knight. When you become a knight with honor and pride, then you can tell me your name, right?”
Argo, with a smirk, lifted the corners of his mouth and patted Najin’s shoulder. It was a very satisfying smile.
“I look forward to the day when it comes soon.”
Try to come by.
We will tidy up this place.
“Soon, I’ll come to see you again.”
Najin bowed his head and moved his steps.
He didn’t add anything more, but Argo could understand what Najin had added.
Next time, I will meet you as a knight like you.
After Najin left.
The knights of Atanga processed the devil knight’s body, recovered the artifacts he had plundered, and tidied up the bodies of the knights who had been killed by him. It was around the time when the cleanup was completed, feeling sorrow for the news that would be passed on to each family.
Argo’s disciple asked Argo a question.
“Why didn’t you ask more questions? It seemed like he was hiding a lot.”
A seedling who had not yet become a knight.
Talented but young, the child had a narrow perspective on the world. In response to the girl’s question, Argo only sighed.
“There was no need to ask more.”
“May I ask for the reason?”
“Of course. You are my disciple, and I have an obligation to answer your questions.”
“The young man’s intent was pure. Because it was pure, his words did not feel like lies.”
“Yes. That young man wanted to downplay his achievements rather than emphasize them. It was possible because there had been injuries inflicted by knights long ago, because there was advice from a knight, because he was lucky, and so on.”
If he had desired wealth. Or if he had desired fame.
He would have inflated his own achievements and not mentioned the slain knights. But that young man mentioned the slain knights unnecessarily, diminishing his own accomplishments.
“That’s an unbelievable story.”
Argo chuckled bitterly.
It wasn’t that he was telling lies, but it didn’t mean it was the truth. He was a being who had made a contract with a demon possessing such power. While his injuries may have been helpful, they did not play a decisive role.
In other words, that young man fought and triumphed against the intact Bernhagen.
Yet he still diminished his own achievements, wanting to hide his powerlessness, so Argo didn’t ask any further. There was no need to probe.
“I didn’t like the words of someone who wasn’t acting like a knight. That was his response.”
I didn’t like it.
That’s why I despised it.
It was a straightforward, sincere, and refreshing response. Argo smiled. His realm, the means to defeat the demon, and everything else about the young man were all mysteries, but they were probably good things.
The chivalry the young man exhibited.
The knight he aspired to be.
To Argo, the knight of Atanga, they were more important than anything else. Satisfied with that answer, Argo let it go.
“Do not forget the chivalry he spoke of. Flansch. It was an unforgettable story to engrave in your memory.”
“Yes, Lord Argo.”
Flansch, Argo’s retainer, nodded.
Returning to his seat, Argo let out a long sigh as he glanced at the girl helping with the recovery of the corpses. He couldn’t forget the appearance of the young man he had just met.
He wanted to recruit him into the knight order of Atanga.
But Argo felt that the time was not yet right.
At the same time, Argo had a premonition. Someday, that person would surely come to Atanga’s knight order on his own. Even if he didn’t become part of the order, Argo was certain he would become a comrade who shared his aspirations.
“To chase the stars with honor and pride.”
“Hanging my star in the highest, most elevated place. What a splendid dream.”
“If one calls themselves a knight, shouldn’t they dream big?”
Argo chuckled bitterly.
He couldn’t help but think of a certain knight who had been his motivation and Atanga’s promising youth. If he was still on the surface, he would surely have become a swordsman.
Argo murmured the name of his old friend.
“You seem to have raised a disciple.”
What Argo held in his hand was a commission.
The young man who had taken on the request was named Ivan. It may have been a common name, but one could not dismiss it as mere coincidence. Argo let out a long sigh.
No matter where it fell.
Even if he lost his honor and everything else.
He struggled to recover what he had lost.
The sense of a knight that the young man had expressed with his words. Argo realized who the story he had put in his mouth, undoubtedly recalling someone, was pointing to. At the same time, he could also realize the fact that his longtime friend had not given up being a knight even in that place.
“So, it’s you.”
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Muttering, Argo stood up from his seat.
This was not a story to be told to others; it should be kept within. Ivan, the former knight of the A’tanga, was undoubtedly a convicted criminal.
How the young man could encounter Ivan, and what the relationship between Ivan and him was, would have to be heard later, perhaps along with the author’s name. Hoping for that day to come soon, Argo tightened the grip on his sword hilt.