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Chapter: 98


Chapter 98:

‘Asura… is showing me the sword path.’

I was definitely the one moving the sword, but it felt like Asura itself was fighting. I could see new paths and points I hadn’t seen before.

‘I could have pierced his forehead just now.’

But once again, I stayed my hand. All these paths and points, the so-called sword path, were a new learning experience and lesson for me.

‘My movements have become much lighter, too.’

I realized that my movements had become very similar to Yeonseo’s. Of course, they weren’t as clean as hers. Looking purely at ‘sword-related technique’, Yeonseo was a step above me. But I had something Yeonseo didn’t.

‘Stats and items.’

With the edge they gave me, I was creating movements that almost mirrored hers. I was physically creating a technique.

‘Modifying Heavenly Demonic Flying Step into a foot technique would probably feel something like this.’

I could feel that I was growing in the midst of battle. It was different from fighting a monster. My growth felt far faster when I was facing humans. I swung my sword in a trance, in the state that was called being ‘one with the sword’.

After not much time passed, I heard a notice.

[The innate ability ‘Sword Path Tracing’ has been awakened.]

‘Huh?’

The notice startled me out of the trance I’d been in.

‘Sword Path Tracing?’

[Sword Path Tracing]

An ability that creates sword paths. No matter the situation, it will trace sword paths to attack an opponent within attack range.

For a moment, I nearly forgot I was in a battle against Gilsup.

‘This… is a pretty famous innate ability.’

It was an innate ability typically possessed by cream of the crop swordsmen, commonly called the swordsmen Rankers. At least 50% of them possessed the special talent called ‘Sword Path Tracing’.

And I… acquired that.

‘No, I didn’t acquire it; I awakened it.’

Innate abilities were talents you already had within you, already-existing abilities that could be awakened via special means. I had unintentionally unlocked another innate ability.

‘Even if I were going mad with pain, even if I myself couldn’t see any paths. Even if I lost both my arms… it will create a path and follow through, no matter what.’

That was the power of ‘Sword Path Tracing’. Both your arms could be cut off and the ability would still carry out the attack as long as the opponent was within attack range. There was even a case where the Sword Ghost Lee Changhyun successfully pierced the ‘Red Eye’ by gripping his sword with his teeth because his arms had been cut off.

I felt a surge of happiness. ‘It kinda feels like I just got a killer move.’

The day would undoubtedly come when I would be able to make very good use of this new card. I fought Byeon Gilsup with leisure, moving far more naturally and smoothly than before, now that Asura had taught me to read sword paths. 

* * *

From the side, Yeonseo perceived it clearly: Hyukjin had gotten stronger once again. Every time she thought she was catching up to him, he pulled ahead again, and the process repeated. Looking at her rival made her feel a burst of agitation once again, a feeling that quickly transformed into happy excitement. Excitement from seeing a strong person, and happiness from the fact that she was that strong person’s closest teammate.

‘Like I said, he’s got a serious talent for exciting people.’

She filled her eyes with the sight of Hyukjin. Just then, Byeon Gilsup’s spear fell out of his hands.

"Haah—! Haah—!"

Hyukjin’s sword, Asura, rested lightly on the spearman’s throat.

"Do you acknowledge defeat?"

"..."

The panting Gilsup bit his lips. He had no choice but to acknowledge defeat, but he was being stubborn. It was hard for him to acknowledge that he, a spearman class Player, was defeated by a sovereign class. And that was a result Hyukjin had intentionally crafted.

‘I’m sure he’s quite pissed.’

Hyukjin intentionally showed him openings and chose not to attack. He gave Gilsup many opportunities to win. Reason number one was because he was having fun with the new ability Asura had given him, and reason number two was to agitate Byeon Gilsup even more.

The spearman spoke, barely managing to swallow his rage. "It seems that the sovereign class… has many chances to acquire good items."

"Yes, of course. It’s called sovereign for a reason."

"Your items are so strong that I’m left wondering if this is truly a fair fight."

By the standards of the future, that was a completely ridiculous thing to say. In the future, the "item halo" was recognized as another kind of skill. That was just a natural fact of life.

‘But in the beginning days of Playing, being overgeared wasn’t recognized.’

In the early game, the public sentiment in not just Korea, but the whole world, was stacked against items in PVP. Hyukjin was keenly aware of that.

‘It’s the same now, huh.’

The flow of the past and now was the same.

"Items, you say."

Hyukjin handed the Asura he was holding to Yeonseo, simply returning it to its original owner. He also gave the ‘Wind Shoes +1’ back to Sunghyun.

"Alright then. I’ve passed on all the outstanding items."

He stopped himself from saying one more thing, which was "I haven’t even used the special ability of the Wind Shoes". He thought he would need to use ‘Imaginary Running Start’ at least once, but that wasn’t the case.

His thoughts on the battle with Byeon Gilsup were simple.

‘It’s way easier than I expected.’

The PVP was way easier than he thought, even considering he had the help of Asura.

"On the other hand, you have something called the class halo, Mr. Byeon Gilsup. Am I wrong?"

"That’s…"

"If you want to comment on items with me, it’s only right to talk about your class halo first."

"..."

Gilsup wasn’t the type of person to harp on the ridiculous. He was rendered speechless for a moment.

"Though well, even your class halo is meaningless."

Hyukjin closed in on the spearman instantly using Flash Step, an attack he’d shown everyone here before. He got behind Gilsup’s undefended back and stabbed his neck with a dagger, severing the carotid artery.

"You mustn’t let your guard down until the very end." It all happened in an instant. "It was you who said that the PVP hadn’t ended yet."

With a single attack, blood surged out of Gilsup’s neck. Hyukjin released his grip.

Plop!

The spearman slumped to the ground like a puppet with cut strings, dying on the spot.

[You have won the PVP match.]

Cheon Sooji’s eyes widened as she watched. She hadn’t been able to read Hyukjin’s movements just now.

‘A clean strike free of superfluous movements.’

No, it wasn’t just about being clean. It was downright terrifying.

‘The way he cut a person’s throat… was extremely natural.’

They might be in a PVP zone where Players were resurrected, but even so, severing a living person’s carotid artery wasn’t something just anyone could do. Just now, Hyukjin almost looked like a demon of slaughter who had killed a thousand, tens of thousands of times. Sooji felt the breath catch in her throat.

‘Scary.’

It was scary and terrifying. She replayed it in her mind and found that she wouldn’t have been able to avoid that merciless strike, either. She was sure of it.

‘If that man wanted to, he might be able to kill all of us here.’

No, she knew that was an exaggeration. But still, she felt a strange sense of pressure from that man. Her heart thumped unbidden, and a strange nervousness, a strange fear, pulsed through her veins. And in the midst of it, there was a tingly, exhilarating thrill.

Her heart began to beat wildly.

‘That man. I want him.’

In the meantime, Byeon Gilsup revived in a flash of light.

* * *

After reviving, Gilsup’s face flushed red. Hyukjin grinned at him in open provocation.

"We can fight again if you like."

"..."

But Gilsup had already felt it. Facing Hyukjin was like facing a wall. He was a strong person Gilsup couldn’t even begin to face with his current skills.

‘I’m furious.’

He was angry, but there was nothing he could do. A defeat was a defeat.

‘And I’m scared.’

On one hand, he was furious, and on the other, he was scared. Those two contradictory emotions gripped him as Hyukjin continued talking.

"I’m a sovereign class. You’re a spearman class. I imagine that 1 vs. 1 PVP is a spearman’s specialty."

"..."

"Though in terms of the result, the class difference was pretty much meaningless."

Hyukjin himself was a little fascinated. It had simply been too easy. Even if two people were the same level and a similar class, their abilities would be heaven and hell apart based on talent. They were both ‘men in their 20s’, but there was a marked difference in skill within that group.

‘Even though Byeon Gilsup… should be a Player with a talent that Kim Taechun can’t even compare to.’

And yet, he won, and far more easily than he expected. So easily that he wondered if this was really alright. In any case, he successfully carried out the 1st round of forestalling, which meant he could also get the thing Cheon Sooji had promised him.

This was where it really began.

"I’ve brought all my party members here."

He’d gone out of his way to bring all his party members here for this picture. After winning a 1 vs. 1 and provoking the other party, they would have a group battle. Hyukjin wanted to prove not only his individual strength, but his overwhelming skill even in a guild vs. guild battle. He wanted to show them that there was a true sky beyond the one they knew.

"We’ve had a battle that shows off your specialty…" Hyukjin stared at Song Kiyeol as he spoke, "So how about having a battle that shows off mine this time? It’s only fair that I also get a chance to show you what a class halo is. What do you think?"

Kiyeol fell into a moment of thought. What Hyukjin was saying was that direct battle wasn’t his forte, so they should come at him if they had the balls, and he would show them his true ability, the ‘sovereign class’. The gears in Kiyeol’s brain turned rapidly, flicking the abacus beads of profit and loss from accepting this battle. 

He realized Hyukjin’s intent. Hyukjin wasn’t asking them to fight like this simply to provoke.

‘His intent is clear.’

A simple fight wasn’t what he wanted. Goosebumps rose up not just on his arms, but on the back of his neck.

‘How can a person like him possibly be 20 years old?’

He was almost sure he knew what Hyukjin intended. When he realized it, Kiyeol found himself growing calm.

‘First. To show not just his individual dominance, but the dominance of his entire team.’

In addition—

‘Second. To bolster my assertion that we need to actively cooperate with his party.’

In other words, to prove that his discernment as the Guildmaster of Taeguk Shield was correct.

‘Third. To make the Taeguk Shield guild members submissive by showing an overwhelming difference in skill.’

In other words, he was pre-empting every possible problem. Once he fully realized Hyukjin’s intent, Kiyeol had to really think for a moment. If things went as Hyukjin intended, it was almost guaranteed that Taeguk Shield would be defeated. He couldn't be sure if their loss would truly be a good thing.

‘And if we were to win?’

That would be good in its own way. He had more than enough willingness to cooperate with Hyukjin anyway. From what Kiyeol had seen so far, Kim Hyukjin had competence in spades. If Taeguk Shield won, Kiyeol would be able to take a slightly more favorable position in their relationship moving forward.

‘We… will do our best to win.’

Winning was of course good, but there wasn’t much to lose from losing, either. That was the kind of big picture Hyukjin had drawn for him.

And so, he accepted.

"I accept your proposal, Mr. Kim Hyukjin."

Their side had a rough estimation of the other side’s forces, compiled based on the eyewitness reports of the survivors from the Hill of Blowing Wind. Kiyeol figured that they might have a slight edge in that regard.

Hyukjin spoke to Senia. "Senia. Can you declare a GVG zone instead of a PVP zone?"

"The declaration of a GVG zone requires the sponsorship of a Guardian." Not long afterwards, Senia spoke again. "It is possible to declare a GVG. This GVG will be sponsored by the Herdsman of Las Vegas."

Notices came in.

[A GVG Zone has been declared.]

[Moving to the GVG Zone.]

The Players were covered in light, and no one was able to see the profound smile on Hyukjin’s lips.

Song Kiyeol’s belief that this was a ‘big picture drawn Hyukjin drew for him’ was only half right.

____


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