3 – Just as if falling
We descended the mountain until we came to the forest at the base.
It was around the area where I had been found as a baby.
“…Here we are.”
The old man’s voice made me hold my tongue. There was a secret power in that voice, and I couldn’t help but tense up.
When I looked in the direction that he was pointing…there was a bear.
And it was no ordinary bear.
Well, I had never encountered an ordinary bear. But I knew that they did not have claws the length of a human. They were not this large.
Even a hunting rifle would not be able to take such a thing down.
“Do not move.”
The old man walked calmly as he unleashed the weapon from his belt.
Today, we were not equipped with the usual wooden swords. These were real.
Not only that, but they were something familiar from my previous life… Katanas. I suppose they would be called uchigatana, specifically.
It was so captivatingly beautiful.
The bear let out a terrifying roar, and swung down with its massive claws.
I had no idea if my words even reached him. However…
A second of silence.
And the monstrous bear was cleaved in half.
It crumbled with a great thud. And then, after a short delay, blood sprayed all over the ground, creating a puddle.
By then, the old man had already turned his back to it. And the katana returned to its sheath with a clink.
I wasn’t sure what had happened.
But the result was clear.
With one blade, the old man had cut the bear in half.
A chill, both of excitement and fear ran down my back.
(He’s so strong…)
Should he even be in the same category as humans?
It was so overwhelming.
I had never seen swordsmanship on that level… That strength. I had an uncontrollable desire to be like that.
The old man walked back to me and muttered.
…Wait, no. Surely that’s impossible?
But he ignored me and pointed up ahead. There was a wolf, growling at us.
Well, that would be easier than the bear. But as I thought this…one, two, three… Wait, wait. Now there were ten of them!?
“I can’t take on so many at once!”
This would be my first real battle!
My shout was closer to a scream, but the old man just snorted.
Then, he appeared to vanish.
And in the blink of an eye, the heads of the wolves went flying.
Eight heads in all. There were only two left.
Not only that, but the old man took position behind them, cutting off any retreat.
The wolves turned to him in alarm. They stepped back and growled…before changing their target to me.
(Are you kidding!?)
I quickly unsheathed my sword.
The old man had carried it for me until we reached this place.
If only they would run away. No, perhaps they realized, instinctively, that they could not?
Could I win? Against two? Two wolves. Besides, they had red eyes, which suggested that they were not normal.
I was just a human who practiced swinging every day!
And this was my first time holding a real sword.
My hands shook. My feet trembled. My throat became dry.
In my head, I kept thinking of excuses for failure.
The wolves clearly intended to kill me. They were surrounding me, waiting for the moment to strike.
I couldn’t do this. I was just about to shout it.
If the old man helped me, I might make it.
(Are you going to run again?)
Run. Run. Always running. For over a decade.
Swinging a sword every day for a few years.
I had wanted to change. Thought I did change.
Because running never led me anywhere.
…No, I would never run away again.
My shout acted like a trigger, and the wolves pounced on me at once.
Not only that, but at different heights. One trying to bite my upper half and the other my lower half. Impressive coordination.
…Use your legs.
I thought I heard those words, and I stepped forward.
And though they shook, my legs still moved.
I couldn’t go one against two. I had to crush one first.
I went around the wolf that flew from the right, and rotated my body.
For a second, my eyes met those of the old man.
My body moved without delay. Movements I had repeated hundreds, thousands of times.
As if tracing the movements of the old man.
(I wanted to be like you, old man.)
As if accelerating, every muscle, every movement, like turning a screw.
It wasn’t speed. Not strength. Not power.
Just, as if falling. A drop of water. The sigh of the wind. A falling leaf.
The blade came down.
And then the glint of metal, as if the most natural thing, chopped off the wolf’s head.