Chapter 98 is here! This chapter was edited by Fordoom, who did a great job as usual 😀
In『Brave Hearts』, Harold Stokes was not a dual sword wielder; his only weapon was his black sword. The sword embedded with a crystal that Harold was currently using did not exist at all in the game, as it was given to him by Justus in this world.
Of course, that was not an act of kindness in any way; Justus was simply using that sword to convince his surroundings that Harold was just a convenient pawn who he had already subdued.
However, given how good he was at scheming, there was naturally more to this.
The sword had the exceptional ability of absorbing the user’s mana to elevate his fighting capabilities, but if the sword could not be controlled and absorbed Harold’s magical power just by being in his presence, then even he would likely have stubbornly refused to take it.
Because whenever it absorbed the user’s mana, it would literally absorb his life force. So this was a very Justus-like trick, as he had told only half a lie.
Due to this, Harold had hardly used this power up to now. So far, he had displayed the sword’s ability only twice.
The first time was when he happened to discover a troupe of knights who had been attacked and almost annihilated by monsters, so, in order to help; he killed the enemies as fast as he possibly could. The second time was when he instantaneously killed the hydras at the peak of mount Giran.
Both of those times lasted for only a few minutes. However, given that his lifespan was being reduced by this, even a few minutes felt like they could be fatal to him. Not knowing how much of his life he had lost was indescribably terrifying.
So Harold had used the sword’s power as little as possible. He was always wracking his brains and trying every trick in the book just because he did not want to die, so if he actually went ahead to shorten his life, he would be completely losing sight of his priorities.
However, at this moment, he simply could not say that, because Vincent was just that formidable of an enemy.
In order to make the best use of his distinctly superior speed, Harold’s feet were constantly in motion. He was using magic spells as a diversion as he was crossing swords with Vincent while looking for his chance to strike. If Harold were to relax his guard for the smallest of instants, his defense would likely be smashed and he’d end up being overwhelmed by Vincent’s tyrannical strength, therefore, he kept on attacking and defending over and over again.
Then, it finally came. In the middle of the fight, Vincent had a momentary opening in his defense for less than a second. At that moment, Harold focused his whole body’s senses.
He stepped forward with lightning fast speed.
Due to his physique and weapon, the reach of Vincent’s attacks was considerably wider than Harold’s. This was one of the main reasons why Harold was at a loss about how to attack him. In other words, exploiting an opening was not enough. It was certainly possible for him to take the offensive by combining his speed with his numerous moves, but that would be too risky considering Vincent’s strength and the instantaneous power and reflexes he displayed in both his offense and defense. Moreover, if Harold were to expose a few gaps, he’d fall back on the defensive. To make matters worse, he would have to fight within the range of Vincent’s attacks.
But above all, Harold did not have enough strength to knock out Vincent with a single blow anyway, and he couldn’t help but judge that it would be too difficult to attack one of his vital points.
Then, what could he do?
Harold’s answer to that question was clear and simple.
He would keep dodging and using diversions, he would strike when there was a gap he could exploit, and then he would immediately retreat, taking some distance from Vincent. It was a so-called hit-and-run tactic.
Vincent started raising his sword over his head, and at the same time, Harold immediately shortened the distance between the two of them. Vincent stopped his action, and while taking half a step back, he had no other choice than to swing his large sword downwards.
However, no matter how powerful he was, he had not been able to feel the attack from before as it came at him.
Harold was aiming at the right arm of Vincent, which was holding his sword. Maybe in order not to disrupt the movement of his shoulder, he had left the space around his right armpit wide open. Harold sliced at that gap in Vincent’s defense with his black sword.
Then, he withdrew before Vincent could get to counter-attack. Harold once again took some distance and faced Vincent like before.
Perhaps this method was effective in the sense that it was a sure-fire way to deliver his attacks.
However, there was one problem. To instantaneously shorten the distance between him and his opponent, Harold was using a super-acceleration move for which his sword would absorb his mana each time. As he used it this time, he was afraid of how long this battle would drag, for he didn’t know how much of his mana, and of his life, was being consumed.
The part of Vincent’s armpit which Harold had sliced at with his sword was covered with a black cloth. But slicing that part did not feel like cutting through human flesh, the attack had been clearly obstructed by a hard object.
Harold had an idea what it was. There was probably some chain mail or something like that, hidden under Vincent’s clothes. Unless he could strike that protection with a critical hit, Harold was going to have to attack it multiple times during the fight.
If he wasn’t in such a small cave, he could also try to take some distance and fire high-tier spells in rapid succession to remove that obstruction, but if he did that here, he would likely get entangled in his own magic, or the spell would make the whole cave collapse, crushing him to death in the process.
【”This has been going for way too long…”】
The situation was turning extremely bad for Harold.
Perhaps he would end up being killed by Vincent, or perhaps he would end up using up all his strength and dying to his own sword’s power.
Still, in order to survive, he could do nothing but keep fighting.
As if to repel the darkness, the tree branches that were being used as firewood were burning with a crackling sound. Holding her knees, Lifa was looking at the flames while thinking about some things.
Or perhaps it was more correct to say that she was worrying about some things. Those worries were about Harold, and at the same time, they were about Erica who was journeying with her now.
Erica was the daughter of the Sumeragi family, and she currently was Lifa’s traveling companion, as well.
Her personality was gentle and graceful, and yet she also had a strong heart which allowed her to firmly speak her opinions. She wasn’t naive like a girl who had led a sheltered life, and she viewed everything in a broad perspective. Moreover, she was so skilled with her magic and archery that even knights and adventurers were not worth being compared to her.
She came from a good family, her character was excellent, and she also excelled in various other fields. The more Lifa traveled with her, the more she was able to understand how perfect Erica was as a woman.
Furthermore, she was the most beautiful person Lifa had ever seen. When Colette spoke of her unreserved admiration for Erica, Lifa could only agree. Perhaps it could be said that she was the personification of a man’s ideal.
That perfect woman was Harold’s fiancee… or so it seemed at least.
Although the two concerned parties themselves had denied that fact, Francis and Erica’s older brother had both said that the two were actually engaged, so there was probably no way that was a lie.
Then, why would Erica deny it? If she simply hated Harold, then perhaps that would be the end of the matter, but it was hard to believe that someone like her would openly show her hatred for him on the surface.
It felt too incompatible with her personality, which reminded Lifa of something else that had felt the same way to her recently. It was Harold’s excessive coldness towards Erica.
From Lifa’s perspective, it looked like both Harold and Erica didn’t seem like themselves in the way they behaved towards each other.
This was just a theory, but, maybe Harold was cold to Erica in order to keep her away from him. That way, she would not get hurt by his own death…. No, perhaps he did that precisely because he did not want her to be hurt. It was very difficult to understand the kindness of that man due to his twisted personality, but Lifa judged that this possibility was quite conceivable.
As for Erica, maybe she was also taking Harold’s feelings into consideration, and was taking a stubborn attitude towards him in order to pretend that she disliked him, just like he wished she would. She knew Harold from her childhood; she could basically be classified as a childhood friend of his.
Lifa did not know since when Harold had taken on his arrogant behavior and for how long he had kept it going, but while he did have a perfectionist’s atmosphere to him, he was still flawed, and so was his facade. Upon coming in contact with him for long enough, one would surely have many opportunities to notice the kindness hidden beyond Harold’s clumsy behavior.
That was all the more true for an intelligent person like Erica.
There was no clear basis behind Lifa’s hypothesis.
To come up with this wild idea, she had merely linked the facts that both of them did not seem to behave like themselves. Normally, if Lifa had come up with a theory that made such a huge leap in logic, she would laugh it off and wouldn’t concern herself with it.
Nevertheless, she could not cast aside her idea precisely because it was still just a hypothesis. Because if by any chance these assumptions turned out to be true or just close to the truth, then Erica might get scarred for her whole life.
The crucial point here was: how much did Erica know about Harold’s situation?
Considering that Harold was trying to keep Erica away, and that she did not want to go against his wish, then she probably was not aware that he did not have much time left to live. The best reason to think so was that, the first time Lifa came to the Sumeragi territory with Harold, he had forbidden her to speak about his life span.
No matter how one looked at her, Erica was not the type to put her feelings of hatred on the surface. She was only human, so, there had to be times when she would get angry, and there had to be some people that she actually disliked within her mind; But there was no doubt that she would hide those kinds of feelings under a smile and behave herself on the outside.
Then why did she not do that only when it came to Harold? Wasn’t it because that was what Harold wanted?
If so, then that meant they were both subduing their real feelings for each-other’s sake.
The reason Lifa thought so was that, knowing Erica’s nature, it seemed unlikely for her to truly dislike Harold.
Five of the six members of the team that was traveling together, in other words, everyone except for Erica, had a favorable opinion of Harold; they were a very unusual group. But even though they were certainly a strange bunch, Erica was still willing to seriously listen to their opinions and consider them.
Yet, only when it came to Harold, she was obstinate in saying that he was evil, and she was not willing to change her views; that was way too strange and too unfitting of Erica’s character in Lifa’s eyes. Even when Liner and Colette tried to persuade her by telling her “Harold is not the man that the rumors make him out to be”, Erica persisted, saying “There is no understanding that man’s true nature.”.
It was as if she was trying to advertise to her surroundings that “Erica Sumeragi hates Harold stokes”. To Lifa, it felt like there was no way Erica would use such substanceless words just because of her own personal hatred.
It was safe to think that she was just putting on such an act because she had some particular circumstances, and what if those circumstances were that, for Harold’s sake, she was taking on the attitude that he wanted her to take?
In that case, then if Harold were to die, would Erica’s heart be able to bear it? While Lifa had managed to keep quiet despite knowing that Harold did not have much time left to live, she believed that even she would be crushed and unable to bear it if he were to actually die.
However if she were to tell the truth to Erica here, then she would be breaking her promise with Harold…
【”I can’t do that….”】
Lifa let those words escape her as she sighed.
Then, a voice came at her completely defenseless back.
【”Can’t do what?”】
Lifa almost instinctively screamed because of that surprise attack, but she had somehow managed to stop that reflex.
However, her excessive surprise was not due to the sudden appearance of the voice, rather, it was because of the owner of said voice.
【”W, what is it, Erica?”】
【”It’s time to switch places for the night watch.”】
【”Huh? Really? Isn’t it still too early?”】
【”No no, it’s already time….”】
Upon being told that, Lifa consulted her watch. As Erica had said, there were only a few minutes left before she would have to switch places with her.
It seemed like Lifa had been considerably absorbed in her thoughts. Moreover, it looked like Liner, who was keeping watch with her, had fallen asleep. She had apparently been too engrossed in her thoughts to notice that.
【”Oh, it’s true. I’m sorry, I forgot to wake you up.”】
【”Don’t worry about that. But it looks like you have something on your mind….”】
It would be difficult for Lifa to say frankly and unreservedly that she was worried about the relationship between Harold and Erica. That would be akin to walking straight into a minefield.
Besides, she had promised Harold that she wouldn’t talk about the matter concerning his life span. Above all, even if she tried to question Erica in an upfront manner about their relationship, she likely would not get an answer. But even so, it didn’t fit Lifa’s nature to just stand and watch without doing anything.
So, she was going to start the discussion from another direction. “This is probably none of my business but I have to do it”, while thinking that, Lifa confirmed that everyone other than Erica and herself was asleep, and she then started talking.
【”…Erica, is there someone you’re in love with?”】