The banquet was over. No, to be honest, it was brought to an end. It was because most of the participants had left since they were excited about the matches.
Those who were assigned opponents equal to them were now regretting their time there.
And those who were underperformers were thinking of methods which would make them perform better, and even those who were considered to be among the potential winners couldn’t stay silent since they had opponents who were strong.
They now had to train the sword and focus their bodies.
But there were those who didn’t do it.
It was because of the reunion after a long time.
Including Judith, the four swordsmen of Krono had gathered together for the first time in 2 and a half years and were talking.
And there was alcohol present too. It was because Bratt wasn’t the kind of person to leave it out.
“Ah, this is like poison!”
“Take this opportunity and get used to it!”
“How can one get used to this?”
“Just drink it. There is a saying that alcohol is like a cold fire. Maybe it will help your swordsmanship.”
“… I can't tell if that is a joke or fact.”
Judith stared at the glass in front of her with wide eyes and then took it down with courage and regretted it right away.
She felt a hot, bitter sensation running down her throat! There was also a strong scent which continued to linger on the top of the mouth!
It wasn’t something she couldn’t bear but she finally understood why this was called ‘cold fire’, yet she couldn’t enjoy it.
After coughing a couple of times, Judith turned her head.
She was going to ask Ilya Lindsay for a match, but now they were friends and she seemed busy getting her glass filled with water by Airn.
She was constantly looking at Airn Pareira!
Bratt silently got up and brought water for Judith.
Slowly, until the glass was filled with water, Ilya’s gaze didn’t leave Airn’s. It had been like that since they first met today.
When Airn would occasionally talk, Ilya would still never look away from his face, and it was like she could only see him and Airn was also like that… Now, it felt like both of them didn’t care about others.
‘How can people change like that?’
“Is it because they are drunk?”
Judith shook her head.
Although she improved a lot, Ilya from before didn’t show even a slight change in her expression, and it was as if she had a mask on her face.
As if her being in a relationship wasn’t enough, she was actually making soft affectionate expressions now. Even if Bratt didn’t inform Judith of all this, this was shocking to see with her own eyes.
At that moment, Ilya slowly turned her head to Judith and said,
“I am not drunk.”
“I am drunk on Airn.”
The silver-haired swordsman said with a slight smile.
Judith’s face after Ilya turned her head away was blank. It was the same with Bratt. Even the good-natured, funny man was wide-eyed.
And it didn’t end there.
Airn Pareira, gently touched his lover’s face and turned her to his side, and said,
“Where are you looking at? You only get to look at me.”
“Ah, ah… Bratt, pour me a glass. No, just give me the full bottle.”
Judith lowered her head as if muttering in a daze.
She knew that they were trying to pull her leg. But despite knowing that, it was so embarrassing to actually be there and feel that. It was even more shocking because both of them didn’t have this kind of personality. Rather she would find it normal if Bratt was the one saying it…
The moment she thought that, a hand suddenly reached for her.
Bratt pulled Judith close to her by touching her chin and spoke with a soft gaze.
“I also want to get drunk on Judith.”
“… stop it before I destroy you.”
“Um? I did nothing?”
“Stop, please stop…”
Judith mumbled in distressed expression, and the rest of them burst into laughter. Right. Even though they hadn’t seen each other in so long, they were still good friends.
They still had a comfortable air with no awkwardness, and they could talk about various things.
The first thing they spoke about was the story of Airn and Ilya.
Judith knew the two had feelings for each other, but she didn’t know how they started dating. As long as the two people in front of her didn’t feel shy, she wanted to hear all of it.
Fortunately, this time Airn and Ilya didn’t joke around. Rather they were flustered hearing Bratt exaggerate the story.
‘No. It is wierder if you make fun and then they act more affectionate! I can't handle it!’
Judith, who thought till then listened to Bratt’s words and the love story safely ended. However, the story that followed the love story was.
Because Bratt and Judith were a couple, Airn and Ilya had to know about them too.
“Everyone be careful. Fill the glass with water.”
“I am warning you in advance, because hearing a story that is too sweet can burn your throat. Okay?”
Again, it was Bratt who led the conversation.
He made Judith’s face blush by speaking of every single thing. Of course, she was the only one feeling that, and the other person was rather happy talking about it.
‘It is amazing, really.’
Airn thought that as he looked at his friends.
Even when he first entered Krono, he didn’t think that he would have such a relationship with them.
Because he thought their genders, personalities, and backgrounds were too different for them to be with him.
“It reminds me of the past.”
“Right. This bastard when I first saw him was far worse than now.”
“W-what! Why are you laughing? You were!”
“Right. She was in first place, but didn’t get along with others and always moved alone. Ah right. Didn’t you take care of Airn even then?”
Airn wasn’t the only one having such thoughts, the others too brought up the old stories one after another, and they reminisced the old times.
A story from when they were trainees in Krono.
A story from the 5 years Airn was stuck in the sorcery world. A story on how they met again after that and how they travelled.
After going about all of that, they moved to the present.
The Warrior’s Festival.
Judith spoke about the big event.
“How is everyone?”
“Uh? What do you mean?”
“This contest. Everyone, what is the goal?”
“Don’t tell me that the participation is what’s important and something like if the purpose is good, then the result isn’t important. You aren’t cooking up some bullshit like that right?”
As Judith was speaking, she looked to her right side. What she was saying was being directed at one person.
Of course, she too was aiming to win. She was the kind who didn’t like losing to anyone, even if they were stronger than her.
In the case of Ilya, she could guess that Ignet Crescentia would be the target. No matter how much of her hatred and obsession had vanished, there would still be a need for healthy competition.
‘And that is probably like saying I will aim to win.’
No one else but Judith knew it.
No, actually, all four of them knew.
The level of Ignet was a lot higher than what the public knew. They knew the fact that she was much closer to winning the Festival than Camrin Ray.
And if one is aiming for her, then it means that they are greedy for winning. At least Judith thought so.
‘Bratt… I don’t know about Bratt.’
Judith looked at her lover.
In a way, she couldn’t understand this guy any more than Airn. When they were young, he was someone raging to be at the top, but as an adult, he seemed to be freed from such concepts.
Of course, it wasn’t that he was weak, he was skilled and good at what he did and climbed to a high level too…
As she was thinking that, Airn opened his mouth.
What he spoke of was something great enough to be called an aspiration.
“I want to win.”
“I want to show off the best of my skills, so that people can continue to live their lives in peace. I want to be able to do that, and I want to win with a bigger form than anyone else. That is what I want. That… is the most effective and realistic way I can help the world right now.”
The air suddenly turned heavy. In a way, his beliefs and goals are what best fit such a contest. However, for most participants, it could be just a remark.
But Judith wasn’t going to argue with this.
Because she had watched him. The noble, hardworking, and sincere side of Airn.
It wasn’t just empty words but effort which was put in to come this far.
Is that why?
Even though Airn was looking at her like a competitor, Judith didn’t feel angry.
If it was someone else Judith would have yelled at them for not considering her as an equal competition.
However, then came an unexpected reaction.
“I don’t even care.”
“You don’t? From the map, it is sure that we will meet in the quarterfinals. If you were conscious of that, it means you should have been speaking of the word winning already.”
Airn was bewildered.
Both Ilya and Judith too were shocked. The remarks said now weren’t with the intention of ignoring or insulting anyone.
It was simply a promise to himself in front of them that he wanted to achieve the best results. It wasn’t something which had to be taken badly.
Even more shocking was that the person who said that just now was Bratt. Judith didn’t understand why the most mature person in the group was acting like a child.
This was out of character.
“Sorry for breaking the atmosphere.”
Bratt poured the rest of the drink and gulped it at once.
And got up. He appeared slightly drunk and after getting up he glanced at Airn and said,
“Then, I need to go practice.”
Neither Airn, Ilya nor Judith stopped him as he left the room.
In such an awkward atmosphere, the drinking party came to an end.
“Huh, what the hell was he doing?”
After their talks ended weirdly, Judith didn’t stop grunting as she headed to her private practice room.
This was something the Holy Kingdom did for all the contestants, and this made it an inconvenience for her to see Bratt.
‘No, now isn’t the time to worry for others!’
She acted confidently but she wasn’t someone who couldn’t understand the reality.
She will not be the winner. And Airn and Ilya aside, the first opponent she would meet in the round of 16 would be Ignet.
She didn’t have time to worry about others.
… still, she was concerned.
At some point, she felt she had changed.
Like she wanted to feel the emotions of needing help, worry or encouragement from others. The world she had was enough for her, and she had to rise to the top with the poison which was gathered from the others and inside of her.
And now she was smiling. The pain from her childhood faded.
Thinking of Khun who didn’t come, of Bratt, and her precious friends Airn and Ilya. And the slightest quarrels they had.
Everything was complicated.
Her head felt so complicated with the new changes that it felt like it would explode.
In front of her came a muscular giant with a grin.
It was Zakuang.
And he spoke with a smile.
“There are ten days till the fight, right? But I have a quick temper so I cannot wait that long.”
“Ah, don’t be afraid. I didn’t come here to tell you what to do, a casual fight is…”
The energy grew from Judith’s body, it wasn’t bright enough to be considered a master’s, as she was still an expert, but it was still strong.
And the intense heat it emitted was second to none.
She, who was like the embodiment of a red flame, drew her sword.
Judith smiled wildly and stepped forward.
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