Interlude – Like a flower, the flame…
00 – The Weight of Resolve
This happened while I was still living with the old man in the mountains.
It was a short while after my training had started. I had descended the mountain and was walking through the forest.
Gathering mountain vegetables in the forest and carrying water was my job.
If I left it to the old man, he would bring back a bean at most. And so cooking was also my job. Well, so was almost all of the household chores.
That old man. He could barely take care of himself. He rarely did anything but swing his sword and sleep. It was like he just ate air.
At first, I thought that it was all part of his training. But I was wrong.
Sometimes, he would hunt monsters and eat them. And he would eat them without cooking them properly, and get sick as a result.
But I was living in practically the same cycle, and knew that you could do it better. And so I decided to take care of all things related to the house.
Thankfully, at that time, while the mountain monsters were still too difficult, I could manage the forest monsters without a problem.
That was why I had lowered my guard.
(What is this smell…)
I could smell something burning.
It wasn’t the smell of burning trees. But something different…
When I looked up at the sky, I saw black smoke rising in the distance.
Could it be that someone was lost? Thinking this, I approached the smoke.
What I saw—was two men, burning something in a great blaze of flames.
They were both dressed entirely in black.
In such suspicious-looking attire, they stared into the fire.
(What is this…)
I had a bad feeling about it. And the indescribable smell around me was making me dizzy.
Without thinking, I moved back. However, there was gravel under my feet.
The sounds of grinding stones caused the two men to turn towards me.
“Hey, who’s the kid?”
“As if I’d know. Well, put it out.”
Put it out? The fire?
The man raised his palm and the air exploded into flames that shot towards me.
I dodged it swiftly.
What was that!?
Could it be…magic!?
“Idiot. You missed!”
The other man looked exasperated as he unsheathed his sword.
“Hey, kid. What brought you out here? Did someone send you?”
“Stop talking to him and just finish this.”
I was stunned.
But my body still moved.
It was mostly reflexes. I stepped aside as the sword swung down, and I unsheathed my blade.
I thought I heard the man say.
But maybe he didn’t.
His head fell to the ground.
Blood sprayed like a mountain, covering my body with red.
Wait a minute.
No. That’s not…
He had always dodged my attacks. If I tried to stop right at his neck, he would scold me.
And so I…
Red rain splashed around me.
The warmth of life.
The other man unsheathed his sword and swung at me.
A plain sword. Slow and clumsy compared to the old man.
But still, I dodged it desperately.
While gripping my sword.
(Why, why, why, why…!?)
My mind was blank.
The image of his head flying was burned into my retinas. It was as if everything in my vision was turning red.
A tornado of fire shot out from the man’s hand.
It was several times larger than the previous one.
My legs…could not move.
(Am I going to die…?)
And in a place like this?
It was then…
What flashed in my mind was the old man’s sword.
I swung down.
Cutting Form – Breaking Thread.
His technique, which I had never been able to do before.
The wind blades cut through the flames, through his face and body.
The only thing that remained was…
Scattered organs. A rolling head. A scene red with blood.
My eyes went to the spot where they had been burning something.
The flames had died down.
It was—human corpses.
After that, my memories are foggy.
I just remember digging graves with a desperate intensity. Also, I had buried the bodies separate from the two men.
And then I returned home and collapsed into bed.
I washed my body in the river, but the smell of blood and guts remained.
Who were those men? Why were they burning bodies? I still didn’t know the answer to that.
—However, there was one thing about that memory that I remembered clearly.
That day, when the old man returned, his nose twitched, and he looked at me.
I froze. I had not even gone out to train that day.
But while I felt as if he knew everything, I pretended that everything was normal as I prepared dinner.
And then as we sat down to eat, he suddenly said,
“…A sword is a vicious weapon.”
I gave up then. I was horrified that he knew.
“A sword is a tool to kill people. The art of wielding a sword is the art of killing. Unsheathing your sword in front of a person means you are ready to kill them. And it is that skill that you are honing.”
Ah, he was right.
I had learned that today. Humans and monsters were different.
A blade was not just a beautiful thing. I thought I knew that.
“Will you still continue?”
I looked at the old man.
His eyes were serious.
Do you have that resolve? He seemed to be asking.
—Of course, I don’t.
I never had it.
I just looked up to him. I wanted to be like him.
And so I pursued the sword.
And then…this happened.
“…Have you killed people?”
It was a foolish question.
While a bit late, I realized then how much his techniques were specialized for killing humans.
Yes, there were some that were only for monsters. But the premise of his sword principle had people in mind. That was why we fought when training. And why I was to not hold back.
So, why then? Did he swing his sword?
To kill people?
I raised my head. Suddenly, I thought that I knew the answer.
If I didn’t swing my sword at that time, then I would have died.
That also meant that they would not have died…
If only one side could live…
Then why should I just accept my own death?
In the face of death, humans were so powerless.
But having the power to fight against it, meant you had the ability to choose.
The path of survival. And the path of saving someone important to you.
And so that was why I swung. So that I did not lose everything.
So that I would not regret, when looking back at the path I walked through.
Perhaps it was egotistical. Self-righteous. Neither good nor evil. However, that was how the sword was. What life is. Probably…
“I don’t know if I have the resolve.”
I answered. I didn’t have anything like that yet.
“I want to continue.”
‘I see.’ He muttered as he took a sip of his soup.
—That was all a long time ago.
But sometimes, these memories would return to me in dreams.
And every time, I would ask myself.
What about now? Do I have the resolve?
Because I don’t want to regret anymore.