Those emotions that hinted at his true feelings, for them to be expressed as words was a difficult feeling. The most appropriate might be the feeling of being deeply moved.
Finally, he had already come to the point where he met with the hero of 『Brave Hearts』, Ryner. The chance meeting that should have happened 5 years in the future according to the game, had already been accomplished.
Although it was completely outside his expectations, being able to build a friendly relationship with Ryner had proved that his actions up until now hadn’t been wrong.
Involuntarily, the corners of his mouth rose up. It looked like an extremely evil smile. The participants who personally saw it were attacked by chills, and all of them simultaneously retreated. Harold, whose conscious had completely shifted onto Ryner, didn’t notice the situation around him.
How can I gain his trust? How high is his strength currently? Does he have a close relationship with Colette like in the game?- Harold only had these thoughts inside his head right now.
As a matter of fact, soon after Harold came to know that this was the world of 『Brave Hearts』, while establishing the objective of evading his own death flags, only once he had thought that there might not be any need for him to personally take any action.
Bluntly speaking, this world was something that was produced. It was an interweaving of characters and fate determined by the producers, a story with its conclusion already determined.
There will always be a protagonist in a story. And for a protagonist, something called protagonist correction1 always exists.
That, which could also be called as the will of the author, was a tremendous power that could make the surrounding circumstances, the flow of the environment, the world itself an ally of the protagonist. Naturally, inside the game, even Ryner had been saved by it. If that wasn’t the case, no matter how outstanding they were, there was no way the world could be saved by some 10 odd people.
But contrarily, as long as Ryner was the protagonist, people would, the world would ally with him. This world too should have surely been made in that manner.
That’s why, he doubted the necessity of a small existence like Harold Stokes trying out to help. Without doing anything unnecessary, quickly getting out of the front stage of the story, it would be be much better and would also be as far away as possible from danger if he became some nameless Villager A.
Like that itself, wouldn’t it be fine to just play dumb in some corner of the world like the minor role he was and wait for the story to welcome the happy ending.
If he thought back to it now, that might have been him shrinking back due to his future, wanting to throw away his duties and escaping. But still, the reason he wasn’t invited by that easy way out was because of the fact that he had saved Clara.
Although it was with Harold’s assistance, she was able to escape her death which should have already been determined.
In short, even if this was a world that resembled the game 『Brave Hearts』, there was no correction power that existed like in the story.
If this hypothesis was correct, then even if Harold ran away, there might not be any villain who would appear instead of him. That would make the story collapse. It might also serve as a negative effect on the protagonist’s growth. The protagonist who couldn’t grow as much as in the game couldn’t save the world- to also avoid this kind of situation, Harold continued to be involved in the story.
(…….But if you think about it in the other way, it would also be possible to strengthen Ryner)
Although Harold had just focused on the negative aspects and hadn’t even thought about it until they actually met, by making him accumulate more experience than in the game and by teaching him how to efficiently fight against enemies, Ryner could become stronger than in the game.
Hiding this secret motive, Harold was waiting for their confrontation. Until the fight against Ryner, all the other participants he fought with, were defeated in a single move without any exceptions.
And the battle against Ryner was, as though someone had planned for it, was on the stage for the finals. Both their victories were overwhelming. Almost none of their opponents could exchange blows with them. And when the 2 of them stood against each other on the stage, the spectators’ excitement had reached the peak.
「Like I promised, I’ve come till here」
「Naturally. If it isn’t just all talk, then prove that strength to me」
「Bring it on!」
Making a strong face filled with competitive spirit, without being timid, Ryner declared. His thoughts that he was absolutely going to win were clearly floating up. Maybe he couldn’t hold back those feelings. As soon as the match started, Ryner attacked.
It was a horizontal sweep, as though wanting to ward off the opponent. Immediately after Harold avoided that by moving backwards, Ryner, who had closed the distance, pursued attacking. From the right, from the left, from above, from below, and sometimes, directly from the front. Those uninterrupted sword strikes that were unleashed, each and every single one of them, were calmly knocked away by Harold.
Speed, power and technique. Certainly, compared to the opponents Harold had fought against until now, Ryner outclassed every single one of them in all these areas. Harold could understand how he could safely come up to the finals.
But that was it. He didn’t feel any menace from Ryner’s strength.
(Oioi……..seriously, is that all?)
As far as Harold was concerned, bluntly speaking, there wasn’t much difference compared to the other participants. At the current point of time, if Ryner’s strength was expressed in game values, it would be level 1, and if one took his age into consideration, then he might be even lower. If that point was taken as the basis, then it would be inevitable to think that Harold was aiming too high, but if it was like this, then Harold couldn’t help but doubt whether he could become a hero who could truly save the world.
Personally seeing Ryner’s strength, the thing Harold felt was neither anger nor disappointment. It was an anxiety that seemed to weigh down heavily upon him.
That was, for Ryner, a shocking spectacle. The tournament he had participated in, while in high spirits. The boy who had participated before him, with a speed that could only be seen as though he had disappeared, had finished his match before anybody could even blink.
Harold. That was how the boy, who was so fast that even following him with the eyes would be difficult, named himself. Moreover, Harold who had that much strength, had acknowledged his own strength. For Ryner who had put great effort to become strong, to gain strength for protecting the people important to him, those words made him happy. But at the same time, seeing that a boy, whose age wasn’t that much different than his own was so strong, he also felt frustrated.
That’s why, he was really serious. Like how he was against his parents, who repelled him every time he challenged them, or even more seriously putting his all his feelings, Ryner confronted Harold.
As though he wanted to collide with Harold with everything he had.
And yet, Ryner’s sword didn’t reach Harold.
(Not even a single strike is hitting him, why!?)
More than 50 sword strikes. Almost all of them were repelled by Harold’s sword, and those that weren’t, were easily evaded by him by simply turning his body.
Although it was a thin and lightweight longsword, he was freely using it with only one hand, and was effortlessly dealing with Ryner’s strikes.
And moreover, Harold still hadn’t used that extremely high speed of his to attack in this match. He was continuing to let Ryner attack as he pleased while not moving his legs at all.
As though he was completely on the defensive. Because it was different from his usual flashy way of fighting, the spectators were cheering him on by saying,’Fight properly’.
But for Ryner who was crossing swords with him, every time they he struck with his sword, he was shown the clear difference in their strength. It was close to the despair felt when a staunch fort, furnished with tall, thick ramparts, was invaded with just a single swing of a sword.
The moment a small crack was produced in Ryner’s heart, his sword dulled by a little bit, and seeing that, Harold backed away.
And he threw these words at Ryner’s strength.
「What a disappointment. You’re not even worth considering」
「Isn’t that the truth? You’re attacks aren’t even grazing me. It’s futile no matter how many times you repeat it」
「You haven’t even attacked yet!」
「You moron. Something like that, I can do it whenever I want」
Harold put those words into action. Simultaneously as Ryner realized that Harold had disappeared from his vision, the sword held by both his hands was cut down.
The blade was split right at the middle, and the upper half of the blade slid on top of the stone floor. There was only the less than one half of the length of the thing that had been a sword, left in his hands.
All the weapons used in the fighting tournament were fake swords that had their edges dulled. That said, to bisect it so cleanly, he couldn’t even imagine just how much skill was required.
And yet, the most surprising thing was still that speed. Looking at it from outside and actually confronting it was completely different. Before Ryner could really see anything at all, he had already closed the gap.
「Not being able to even react to something of this level, I can’t help but feel shocked」
He lost, without any suspense. He was shown a difference that was greater than one between an adult and a child. It was the first time since he had been born that he had lost to a person in the same generation in sword strength. He hadn’t even thought that it would be so frustrating.
As though averting his eyes from Harold, who seemed like too distant an existence, Ryner turned his face downwards.
‘Now, it’ll be over after the referee declares my defeat’, thought Ryner, but no matter how much time passed, the referee didn’t raise his voice. What was displayed in front of Ryner’s eyes, when he raised his face up since he was thinking that it was strange, was Harold’s figure who had thrust the fake sword in front of the referee.
Looking at that scene which exceeded his understanding, that frustration and sense of defeat was instantly blown away, and he was left completely dumbfounded.
For some reason, Harold was threatening the referee.
「Oi, you bastard, this guy still hasn’t admitted that he has been defeated, so what are you thinking wanting to end the match?」
「No, well, his weapon is broken and since he can’t fight anymore…….」
「Then won’t it be fine for him to use another one」
At those words, this time, both Ryner and the referee became perplexed. Ignoring those 2, Harold ripped away a sword from one the other participants below the stage.
No matter how anybody saw it, this match was Harold’s win. Even Ryner, though hadn’t said it from his own mouth, had already acknowledged his defeat.
Holding a fake sword that had been conveniently taken away, Harold came back in front of Ryner. And then, Harold threw it carelessly at his feet, while he was being vigilant.
「Pick it up if you still have the will to fight」
Ryner was silently gazing at the thrown sword. If it were the usual him, without any hesitation, he might have picked it up and asked for a rematch. The reason he was hesitating like this now was because Harold was too strong. If there was such a formidable opponent in the same generation, there was no way he could be a match for him. He was afraid of thinking like that, of acknowledging that.
It was close to instinct to think of protecting one’s self-respect, pride. Much less, when Ryner had never lost to anybody except his parents. And now, after he had thoroughly lost to Harold, if he were to fight anymore, then would only add to the shame of losing. His heart might break.
‘That’s why, let’s stop’, he thought.
「For what reason do you seek strength?」
That decision was halted by Harold’s question.
「For what, reason………」
Why had he thought of becoming strong.
Was it because it was his dream to become the Captain of a chivalric order? Was it because he wanted to win against his mother or father some day? Certainly, those were also true. They were his dream from before, and a nearby target. But he felt that those weren’t the correct reasons.
How had he arrived at wanting to fulfill that dream, and that target? Why had he admired the position of the Captain of a chivalric order?
(If I become strong, then I can be a knight. Since if I become a knight, then I can protect various people……..)
Protect. It was a very vague, and yet a very simple desire. But, that was right. Ryner’s craving for strength, its origin was laughably simple.
When he had been younger than now, a friend of his had been bullied by a kid who was older than them in the village. The difference of 1 or 2 years was extremely huge for children. To surpass that gap, Ryner sought strength. To protect his friend, to defeat an opponent who was bigger and stronger than himself. The justice that lived inside him, to put that into practice, it wasn’t possible if he weren’t strong. He wanted strength to protect the things important to him.
「……..I have things that I have to protect. To protect them all, it would be useless if I’m not the strongest!」
There was also the promise he had made with his childhood friend who was always captious. He would never let that person cry again. For the sake of that, he would become stronger than anyone. That’s why, no matter how strong the opponent was, Ryner had to win. There was no way he could give up before he could win.
「You’ll protect everything? You’re acting as though you’re a hero」
「Still, that is my resolve」
「Humph, no matter how resolved you are, if you don’t have strength corresponding to it, you’d just seem ridiculous」
「If it’s power, I’ll just increase it! Right here, right now!」
Once again, a fire lit up in Ryner’s eyes. The hand that held the sword was hot. That heat, as though wanting to encroach his body, continued spreading from his right hand. His whole body pulsated, with a feeling as though his blood was boiling.
His body, his heart instantly became lighter.
「Here I come, Harold!」
Strongly kicking the ground, he surrendered his body to that floating sensation and approached Harold with a slash. By completing that series of actions, he understood.
That the him right now was swinging the sword in a sharper and faster manner than he had ever done before. And yet, he could sense that even more power was rapidly gushing forth from inside his body.
He couldn’t suppress that delirious sensation. No, the Ryner, who had no intention to suppress it, started to fiercely attack Harold.
When he peeked at Harold’s state, although he was repelling the attacks just like before, his expression was distorted by hatred.
The sound of him clicking his tongue informed Ryner that he was pressing Harold back. Due to victory drawing closer, even more power flooded out of him.
He slashed down at Harold with all of his might. Harold barely managed to dodge it. When the sword that cut through the air hit the floor, as though to show his power, a fissure ran through it. Glancing at that, Harold murmured.
「You’re using 『Brave Mode』 here? As expected, you are……..」
「Haa, ha………brave, mode……..?」
He repeated the words he had heard for the first time. And finally, he realized that he was breathing heavily. It didn’t look like he could continue being in this state for a long time. Then, he would postpone anything that he needed to think about.
Readjusting his grip on the sword, while raising a voice filled with fighting spirit, he restarted attacking for the nth time.
「Don’t get conceited!」
This time, Harold responded. A dizzying amount of sword strike were exchanged. At the battle that couldn’t be thought of as being fought by kids, the spectators swallowed their saliva, and the metallic sound of the sword clashes dominated the stadium. Everybody who were present in that place were captivated by their figures, and although they were curious about the outcome of the match, they wanted this battle to last as long as possible. Those contradictory feelings were welling up in them.
But eternity didn’t exist. Eventually, the time to end the 2’s battle came.
After evading an attack, Ryner’s feet got tangled, and when he was about to fall down, he somehow forcefully held his ground. That was because his body that should have been light, abruptly became heavy.
It became so heavy that it was as though the muscles in his hands and legs had been changed into lead, and it was so painful that it was as though even while trying to breath he couldn’t inhale air.
(Wrong………I’ve just returned, to the usual state……….)
Ryner had repeated moving in a way that he himself had thought wasn’t usually possible. It was nothing more than the recoil for those actions.
He felt as though he was reaching his limits in even gripping the sword. His legs were trembling just by him standing, and it felt as though he would fall if he lost his focus even for a bit.
He fought well. In the end, he still couldn’t properly hit Harold with even a single strike, but still it was a good fight.
If it was the him until yesterday, he couldn’t have fought like this until the bitter end. That’s why, it would be fine to rest already, right?
Harold is unrivalled.
「………Like, I would say that!!」
The weakness that was creeping up on his heart, Ryner erased it with a loud shout. Even if he couldn’t win, even if the other person was unrivalled, he would never give up. This was also for the sake of keeping his promise to Colette.
That high spirit still hadn’t gone dim. On the contrary, it increased as though it was burning up all the more.
As though in concord with Ryner, the surrounding winds surged. That red hair moved like flickering flames.
The next would be the last. And because it was the end, he had to put his all into it. He would fire everything he had got. A single strike with all of his might, all his accumulated effort and all his thoughts placed into it.
If you can–
「Then try to stop iittt!!」
From the sword blade that was swung down as though wanting to cleave Harold, deep crimson flames erupted out with a heavy sound.
Those were flames that contained Ryner’s will. His strong emotions that incarnated his thirst for victory.
In all of the 12 years Ryner had been alive for, this was his strongest attack. He had complete conviction that he had fired off something like that.
Those howling flames attacked Harold directly. As though wanting to swallow his body, it was in that instant when those flames conspicuously swelled up.
A white light flashed as though to completely paint over one’s vision. Almost simultaneously as everyone closed their eyes due to not being able to bear it, a thunderous sound which seemed to tear the air reverberated throughout the stadium.
One person cowered, while another screamed in fear.
The thing that made all living things forcibly feel terror and peril, it was that dreadful thing’s invasion.
The only people who could properly recognize that thing’s identity were those who were in a place away from the stadium.
A never before seen huge bolt of lightning attacked the stadium. Suddenly raining down from the sky that was completely clear, that lightning bolt completely crushed the flames that was about to thoroughly burn Harold, without leaving even a trace behind.
Naturally, there was no need to even think about whose doing it was. The only one in the stadium who was completely unwaveringly calm was Harold. He, a boy of only 13 years, had fired that.
Even that one strike into which he had put his everything, until his spirit had been completely exhausted, hadn’t been able to reach Harold. Not only that, he had easily outclassed Ryner. Looking at that scene, he could do nothing other than laugh. But Ryner didn’t have enough energy left to even smile.
With a blurry vision and powerless legs, without being able to move even a single finger, Ryner started falling towards the front.
The one who stopped and supported that body was Harold. Supporting Ryner at his chest area with his right arm, Harold talked as though he was exasperated.
「Idiot. If you could do that, then you should have started off with it」
「Aren’t you being way too harsh……..」
“That” surely indicated his last strike. Being cornered until he could not even properly stand on his own legs, and yet only because he had struggled until the end, wanting to win, that he was able to unleash it.
It wasn’t something that could be used easily.
Ryner, who was astonished at the fact that a person more Spartan than his mother actually existed, could barely reply back in a feeble voice. Maybe due to truly exhausting all his power with that, Ryner lost his consciousness in Harold’s arms. Entrusting him to the medics who came rushing, while watching Ryner being carried away on a stretcher, Harold mumbled a compliment that reached nobody.
「But well, I’ll take back my words saying that you were a disappointment. Since it seems as though your power reaches at least to the level where my feet are」
Although it was thoroughly condescending, it was unmistakably a praise. There was no way Harold’s words could reach Ryner, who had long lost his consciousness. But there seemed to be a somewhat satisfied smile on Ryner’s face.
While being able to make the game’s protagonist like a protagonist, and at the same time making Harold win, being able to write with that premise is extremely difficult.
1.In other words, plot armor. There are many definitions for it, but the general one is- The author’s work would depict developments, convenient to the play, that are favorable to the protagonist.
First time seeing plot armor being explained in a novel.