Inferno revealed its presence, answering with heat instead of words.
A warm sensation flooded my lungs, spreading through my body.
"We need to save that boy. Help me."
A boy was seen scrambling across the field.
The ash-colored wolf, faster than the boy, gave chase.
The castle gate was still wide open.
There was no indication that the stationed soldiers at the gate planned to intervene.
From a distance, the boy's parents were approaching, having received the alarming news.
Their cries echoed through the chilly night, the vibrations reaching me.
I made my way through the open castle gate.
The soldier at the gate paused, shouting,
My long sword swung loosely at my side.
In my left hand, I gripped a round shield.
Dressed simply and without any enchanted items, I was hardly a figure of awe.
Four soldiers obeyed.
In the end, if I fell, so would they.
'Four enemies. I've played out countless battles in my mind.'
During Lewis de Vreio's time, I learned various sword techniques.
Of course, I couldn't muster any aura to support my techniques. I was horribly clumsy and failed to execute properly.
'I also have Lewis de Hebron's experience.'
His sword skills were basic.
Barely enough to fend off beasts.
I took in his experience.
No, we melded into one.
Mediocre talent met ingenious theory.
This was the de Vreio lineage's theory - turning a dog into a dragon.
The long sword slid out of its sheath.
The sword's trajectory filled my sight.
I recalled a verse from a legendary knight,
Striking the moon's reflection in the water with a sword, swimming against the moonlight, my distant thoughts.
A verse I had learned without understanding its meaning came to mind.
It indirectly depicted a sword strike.
No, there was no better expression.
Power surged into my sword hand.
There was no shaking. Like a seasoned swordsman, I inhaled the battlefield's air deeply.
'I can do this.'
I had been perfecting my swordsmanship for days.
Though I hadn't executed it properly, I had been practicing the techniques that I knew theoretically.
Each time, I felt hope.
Today, I found something beyond that.
'Just a wolf.'
I ran at it.
There was no need for retreat.
My subjects were at risk, and as a member of the Hebron Barony, it was my duty to protect them.
We collected taxes from our subjects in return for protection.
"Inferno, inhabit my sword!"
Inferno's flames clung to my weapon.
My long sword's tip glowed a bright red.
The ash-colored wolf lunged, ready to swallow the young boy.
I charged in tandem.
With his eyes tightly shut, the boy lay flat on his stomach.
As I leapt over him, facing the ash-colored wolf, a heated whoosh filled the air.
My flaming long sword slashed through the wolf's mouth.
A burst of flames exploded as the sword made contact, leaving a wide, long gash on its upper jaw. The wolf was left stunned and bewildered.
In swordsmanship, the flow mattered.
Retracting the swung sword, I stabbed it into the wolf's underbelly.
The scent of scorched flesh filled the air.
Smoke poured out of the wolf's belly.
As the beast twisted and fell with a thud, the remaining three ash-colored wolves slowed their advance.
Instead of a reckless charge, they circled cautiously.
It wasn't just due to my presence.
The soldiers were right behind us, brandishing their spears and intimidating the wolves.
"Shoo! Shoo! Away with you, beasts!"
"Tom, stand quickly. The lord has come to your rescue. Stand and express your gratitude!"
One soldier hoisted young Tom to his feet.
Barely upright, Tom knelt down and bowed.
"Thank you, my lord!"
Tom's skinny frame was a disturbing sight.
"You're not meant to die now. Live another 40, no, 50 years, serving Hebron. That's your destiny. Visit the castle's warehouse tomorrow morning and collect some grain and meat. Putting on weight is your assignment."
That's how de Vreio functioned.
Even commoners were kept alive for as long as possible, exploited until their very core decayed.
"Of, of course! I will live for Hebron!"
"Lo, lo, look behind!"
Wolves were pack animals.
Four was too few.
The four were simply a vanguard, and another twenty lurked behind.
I glared at the approaching wolves and addressed the soldiers,
Horrified, the soldiers stared at me, while I sprinted forward with a smile.
"Good! Really good!"
I struck down the ash-colored wolf standing its ground against me.
I killed one, then two charged at once.
I dodged one and slashed the other.
Then, I killed the one I had evaded earlier.
Every movement was fluid, like flowing water.
'Indeed, I miss the aura.'
Swordsmanship relied on aura.
Only when the right amount of aura reaches a specific body part at the right moment is swordsmanship fulfilled.
Despite my limited aura, I executed my swordsmanship with minimal effort.
And yet, I reached a level difficult to achieve in this rural barony.
"My, my lord, you're incredible!"
"But you need to retreat. Those, those wolves...!"
One soldier pointed behind me. More wolves were racing from there.
Their mouths wide open, they were huffing steam and emanating hostility.
Large beasts quaking the ground, they formed a line.
'So this is a battlefield!'
Experiencing this while living under the De Vreio ducal house was impossible.
Every nerve was alert.
I felt more alive than ever before.
I first confronted mere scouts.
The main force was right behind them.
Any more delay would lead to me being encircled.
Though excited, I wasn't foolish enough to let emotions cloud my judgement. In fact, my mind had never been sharper.
"Alright, we're retreating."
My soldiers and I sprinted towards the castle walls.
The boy ran with us.
"Survive, don't worry about how."
With one hand, I picked up the boy.
"Uh, uh, lord, put me down! I'm too heavy!"
"You're only bones and skin, there's no weight to you. How can you work properly like this? Start gaining weight. Convert that fat to muscle. That's the way of a commoner like you."
I held the boy by my side and ran.
Despite carrying a child, my soldiers lagged behind.
I was the first to reach the castle gate.
This was possible because I drew up my aura and used the method.
When I put Tom down at the castle gate, he sprinted away.
His parents, who were sobbing and slapping his back, embraced him.
It was quite a heartwarming sight.
Pride swelled within me as I realized I made this possible.
'These are mine. I won't lose them. I'm allowed to be greedy.'
Once my soldiers arrived, I ordered,
"Close the gate."
"But, lord, we need to wait until you're inside to close the gate!"
The gatekeeper protested, but I nonchalantly shook the blood off my sword.
Though it wasn't special, it was a well-maintained noble's weapon.
"Do it. On Hebron's order."
Despite their hesitation, they obeyed.
At least they had that much discipline.
"From the wall, support me with arrows. Just don't hit me."
With that, I charged again.
This was exhilarating.
The life I always dreamed of was unfolding before me.
It was my moment to prove my worth on the precipice of life and death.
'I may have failed before, but this time I will succeed!'
I dropped my stance and severed the ash wolf's leg.
As it lost balance and fell, a barrage of arrows hit it.
Swoosh! Swoosh! Swoosh!
I danced with the wolves.
I knew a simple mistake could lead to my demise.
Instead of meeting a wolf head-on, I sidestepped.
I paved the way and sliced the flank of the wolf that tried to pass.
'Good! Very good!'
I wondered if I'd ever experienced such a thrill in my life.
My heart pounded.
'I'm showing off my swordsmanship!'
The Duke of Vreio's knights would likely laugh, but I displayed something close to genuine swordsmanship for the first time.
With every swing of my sword, an ash wolf fell.
Flames erupted from my sword's end.
One, two... six, seven... seventeen, eighteen!
I was panting heavily.
My sword-holding hand shook.
This overexertion could endanger my life.
"You did well, Inferno."
Inferno's flame faded.
The flame, which had safeguarded me throughout the battle, was gone.
Only one wolf remained.
This impressive creature held its ground while its packmates fell around it.
I aimed my sword's point at the wolf.
"I don't need spirits to kill you."
Then, out of nowhere...
An arrow struck between the wolf's eyes.
The animal froze, then slowly keeled over.
Turning, I saw a man resembling a castle wall standing atop it. Sir Brown, our barony's sole knight.
"My lord, are you unharmed?"
"No, I'm far from alright. Get down here and assist me. Haha."
I collapsed, my legs failing me.
Sir Brown practically leaped from the wall, rushing to my side.
Sir Brown was nimble.
He applied herbs to my wounds and wrapped a bandage around me.
'No potions, only herbs. Truly, Hebron is a grass-eating territory.'
Our dominion handed out herbs, not potions, even to an injured lord's son.
And the mixture was so haphazard, it hardly seemed beneficial.
I instructed him to fetch the herbs for a healing potion and clean bandages for the wound.
Thankfully, my body was young and robust.
A day or two of rest should suffice.
However, I had no plans to waste this resting period.
I penned a note with a cheap, rattling pen.
Before rolling it up, I inscribed at the top, 'Herbal Compound - Lewis de Hebron'.
I gave it to Hebron's local herbalist.
Along with a small note.
'Use only these herbal compounds from now on! Lewis de Hebron.'
Even as a nineteen-year-old lord, I was the future head of the family.
My words held almost absolute power in the confined territory of Hebron.
"I'm fine, you may leave."
"I'm staying by your side."
"I said, I'm fine."
"And so am I."
Sir Brown insisted on keeping watch by my bedside.
Feeling guilty for leaving me alone, he was set on staying until I was fully recovered.
I managed to coax him into leaving, and while I was quietly working on building my strength, he found me, nullifying any pretext to send him away.
To dissipate the growing silence, Sir Brown posed a question.
"You've formed a pact with a fire spirit?"
"The spirit's rank is......"
Inferno was a mid-level fire spirit, but its manifested power was usually at the lowest level.