Solo Leveling (I Alone Level-Up) - Chapter 248: Side Story 5 - Igrit’s memories
Side Story 5 – Igrit’s memories
The first time I met ‘him’ was inside the irregular space created out of my liege’s power. My mission was to test the human about to enter this place.
Although my liege said that he wished to find out if this human was fit to become his vessel, I knew the truth, somehow.
I knew that this order might be the last one my liege would ever give me. My liege had lost all interest in warfare after forgiving the Rulers. From that point alone, I knew that he had harboured a deeper meaning in why he was so focused on this rather unremarkable human being.
I began guessing that I’d soon bid farewell to my liege. However, the command issued by my liege was still absolute. I had no thoughts of questioning his motives or changing his mind. All I could do was to comply with his command.
That was all I could do.
And so, after most of my powers were sealed away, I was made to stand all alone in the space where the testing of that human would take place.
‘Humans of this world call spaces such as this one dungeons, don’t they?’
At the far end of this imaginary dungeon shaped to resemble an audience chamber of a king’s castle, I saw a large throne. I combed through my fading memories of the time when I was still human and studied this place.
‘As expected…. You have certainly created quite a detailed stage with my liege’s power, haven’t you?’
I continued to touch and feel each large pillar lined up from the entrance to the plinth where the throne was and expressed my admiration towards the abilities of the architect, who had created all these.
As the fruit of this meticulous planning, that human’s body would continuously be modified to accept my liege’s power.
It was then.
I sensed the presence of someone approaching this place.
‘He’s here already….?’
I panicked at this unexpectedly fast arrival of the test subject and ended up sitting down on the throne.
After I settled down on the throne, I began wondering if me sitting here would be seen as a bit ‘insolent’.
The consciousness of my liege had already taken root within the human I was supposed to test, so I couldn’t help but wonder if me sitting on a throne like this, in front of my master, would be seen as me being disrespectful.
In the end, I judged that I should refrain from displaying any uncouth sight and hurriedly climbed off the throne to hide behind the nearest pillar.
With a truly gobsmacking timing, the massive entrance opened up, but thanks to the surroundings being too dark, that human failed to discover me panicking grandly like that.
What a relief that was.
It’d be no good to make this serious test my liege had planned out into a farce with my mistakes, now would it?
I inwardly spat out a sigh of relief and when the human was about ten steps away from me, I slowly walked out from behind the pillar to block his path.
Through the still air, I sensed his nervousness.
He was a young man.
Obviously, my gaze lingering on him couldn’t be described as favourable.
‘So, he’s the one my liege has chosen…’
Even if this mission wasn’t the final order bestowed unto me, I never planned to go easy during this fight. If I believed that he wasn’t qualified, I’d kill him with my own hands.
And so, as I stood there, igniting my fighting spirit…
….This young man suddenly clenched his fists tightly and put his dukes up.
Wait, could he be thinking of using his bare fists to defeat me?
I briefly thought about how praiseworthy his bravery was, for a human being. To fight him in equal conditions, I took off my cape and removed my weapons one by one.
Why was he getting so surprised by every single thing I did, anyway? Sure, his eyes filled with drive were rather likeable, but did he possess the same level of abilities to match those eyes, I wonder?
So, time to check it out…
….And the results came out pretty quickly.
Even though I was forbidden from bringing out my full power, he was already kneeling before me. What a disappointment that was.
However, just as I felt disappointed, I also felt an equal amount of relief. Because, if the one supposed to inherit the power of my liege turned out to be not qualified, then that meant my liege would remain as he was for a little while longer.
For the first time ever, and also for the last time, too, I felt relieved by my liege’s failure.
And then, I decided to bestow a fitting end matching the level of bravery this man had shown me even though he was a mere human being. I used the ‘authority’ briefly granted to me by my liege and dragged along the sword discarded to a distant location.
Cutting his head off in one go and sending him off on his way with minimal pain was what I planned to do. I figured that such a gesture would be the best form of mercy I could show this human.
Perhaps he had read my mind, he even presented his neck before me.
‘You made the right decision. Wisdom matching your bravery…. Although your loss is lamentable, there is no way other than this to change my liege’s mind.’
For the sake of the man choosing an honourable death, I performed the beheading. But then – he seemed to have accepted his fate without a struggle, but the light in his eyes changed abruptly at that moment.
My sword was blocked off by his hand, and instead, his dagger stabbed deeply into my face next.
I was stunned.
Not by the fact that he managed to block my blade, no, but from the fact that he never gave up on his life right up until the end, even under the current circumstances.
Also, although it was for a brief moment, I saw the light coldly gleaming in his eyes and belatedly realised that it was uncannily similar to the light within my liege’s eyes.
‘Ah, ah… That was why my liege has…’
I completely lost all of my desire to fight, and was unable to respond to any of the continuous streams of attacks landing on me.
I was slammed into the wall, and…
….And, I was stabbed repeatedly.
Clang! Clang! Clang! Clang! Clang! Clang!
Eventually, the metal protector surrounding my neck couldn’t endure and broke off.
The strength he possessed, and then, the one I possessed – since this was a test to confirm whether he possessed enough of a qualification, I should possess higher stats than he did.
However, I still lost.
And quite obviously, too.
Was this the result of me underestimating him after seeing him as just another human being, or a miracle brought on about by his tenacious nature that didn’t know the meaning of giving up?
As my consciousness blurred, I caught the sight of him raising both his hands up high to celebrate.
Well, now. Since I began chuckling while watching him be like that, it could only mean that I wasn’t right of mind, no?
My consciousness blurred even further as my gaze drifted up towards the ceiling.
It was too dark up there, and I couldn’t tell what these endlessly-stretching pillars were connected to. However, I was just a bit saddened by the thought that the distant darkness above seemed to signify my own growing distance away from my liege.
‘Am I supposed to feel happy that my liege’s choice turned out to be correct, or feel sad that I couldn’t manage to change his decision….?’
I couldn’t decide, and that’s how I lost my consciousness.
That was… until that man came closer and shouted out ‘Rise up’ in my direction.
He really cherished me.
Was it because I was his very first soldier – no, technically speaking, not his first but someone very close to being one?
There were many occasions where I thanked him for the kindness I felt from him. And there were many things that remained etched in my memories, such as…. Indeed, that one time.
On a certain day, he said this to me.
“I’m sure you’ll be able to talk once your grade goes up, right?”
How was I supposed to describe the state of my mind that nearly overloaded with emotions when I saw his bright smile? I wasn’t sure of what he thought of me, but at least to me, he was my master, my friend, and my ally.
He and I overcame many battles together.
At times, against denizens of the Chaos World, sometimes against monsters of the instant dungeons, and sometimes, even against other Hunters.
When he was happy, I too was happy, and when he was struggling, I too struggled. And when he was sad, I also felt sad, as well.
I knew that the deeper my loyalty to him became, the longing towards my former master would get fainter and fainter. Despite that, though, I gradually grew to accept my new liege.
Of course, it was not always smooth sailing, either. There were moments that I was actually sweating buckets.
Such as, when I fought against a much stronger female Hunter while still being under several restrictions, with only a sword that could shoot out some lightning bolts.
“Was the black knight you brought out really your strongest summon?”
I was even subjected to such insults, too.
And then, I even became a ‘roommate’ with a Shadow Soldier who possessed an abnormal fighting strength rather unexpectedly, as well.
Now I found myself saddled with a ‘roommate’ who, although very loyal by nature, his nature also happened to be quite vicious. You have no idea how badly I missed my dignified comrades from the past.
That’s how I felt when I met Bellion again. And if I were being honest…. when he taught Beru a lesson, I felt just a tiny bit refreshed.
Just a bit.
Too bad, my joy at reuniting with my old comrade didn’t last long.
Because, not much time passed by before Bellion became influenced by Beru’s antics, too!
[Look, Igrit. This black flag… if we plant it on top of this castle, don’t you think our liege will become happy?]
[….Are you being serious?]
[I don’t possess any skills to craft things like ants do, but if it is to make my liege happy, I’m prepared to do anything.]
[N-no, that’s not what I meant….]
[Kiieehk-hehehet, is that the flag for our liege?]
[…..I give up.]
Of course, there was no need to even mention the reaction of our new master.
In any case, our boss’s powers became even greater after absorbing the original Shadow Army that had been patiently waiting for his summons from the gap between dimensions.
Contrary to my worries, he didn’t treat the ‘soldiers from the previous liege’ any differently from his own, and after uniting under one banner, we were now fully prepared to sacrifice our lives regardless of what battle it was, all for his sake.
Our training time came and went way too quickly, and…
….And, our determination was fully put to the test in the war against the Sovereigns.
We fought with everything we had for his sake and successfully ended the war against the Sovereigns in our decisive victory.
When he was fighting against the Dragon Emperor, we watched with bated breath, this incredible life-or-death battle, from inside the shadow. The brilliant face-off of the two Sovereigns was so beautiful that I was almost overcome with emotions.
[Kiiehhk? What’s this? Igrit, are you crying?]
The entirety of the Shadow Army was up in arms inside our liege’s shadow, thinking that a seriously dangerous moment was upon their master, but then, the armies of the Rulers opened up the doorway in the sky and decided to crash the party.
We all cried out in elation after seeing the reinforcements blotting out the sky.
[You lazy bums, couldn’t you have come a bit earlier?!]
[Wait, could they have deliberately waited until now to make us anxious as heck before making their entrance??]
[If I was standing outside, I’d have kicked their a*ses already!!]
We were pouring out our complaints and dissatisfactions, but inwardly, we were celebrating our master’s victory with great relish.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to sing our songs of celebration for long.
Because… our liege spoke.
“One more time…. Can you use the ‘Chalice of Rebirth’ one more time?”
He said that he wanted to reverse the time and completely erase any signs of Sovereigns and Rulers from this world he was living in.
Back when I was still a human being, I too had people that I wanted to protect, so I could easily sympathise with his emotions. Maybe, I’d have chosen the same path if I was allowed to make the same decision.
I completely respected his choice.
Myself and my comrades were fully prepared to clash against any opponents once more, whether they be the armies of the Sovereigns or not, as long as it was for our master’s sake.
Regrettably, though, not everyone was invited to this battle.
When we learned that some of us would disappear when the time was reversed, those soldiers that fell under that condition all plopped down and began to sorrowfully cry out.
All I could do was to console Iron who had been with us for a long time, Greed who got on the liege’s bad books from the get-go and ended up going through a lot of hardships, as well as other wailing soldiers.
And so, the moment of farewells came to an end like that. We returned to the past and were gifted with a brand-new battlefield.
Our master became more and more adept at warfare, and following after our master’s growth, we too, became stronger in turn, as well.
We faced several dangerous crises, both big and small. However, he grew even stronger every time he overcame them, to a point that it was getting harder to keep up with him.
That’s how almost 30 years flew by.
All of our enemies were defeated, bar the ‘Army of Destruction’.
The desperate clash of our liege against the Dragon Emperor.
While our master was fighting against the leader of the enemy forces, we faced off against the Ancient-grade Dragons.
One of them named Granodeh decided to engage me in a chat as I was mercilessly and crazily cutting down the army of Dragons.
[IGRIT!!! You were supposed to be one of the twin wings of the Shadow Army, yet you follow the orders of a Sovereign who is a measly human?! Are you not ashamed of yourself??]
Not even possessing enough energy to maintain its Dragonic form anymore, the b*stard had reverted back to a humanoid appearance, panting laboriously as it clutched the sword sticking out its chest. I ended up staring at the dying creature with dazed eyes for a long time after hearing its final words.
Indeed, I had forgotten it.
The moments spent with my new master had been so glorious that I had completely forgotten about the previous liege.
Since when did this happen?
Since when did the previous liege completely disappear from my mind?
Granodeh’s breathing came to a stop a long time ago, and fierce skirmishes continued to break out all around me, but I just couldn’t bring myself to leave this spot for a while.
I thought that my master was everything to me – but, in reality, he meant so little to me?
Such feelings of doubt caused the inside of my mind to blank out.
But then, this happened.
I heard a loud yell coming from somewhere that woke me up real fast.
It was the voice of my liege.
I urgently raised my head to look. In the direction my gaze landed in next, I was greeted by a ray of blinding light.
‘Breath of Destruction!!’
The Dragon Emperor had spent most of its energy after battling my liege and reverted back to its humanoid figure as well. But, for some reason, it was firing a Breath in my direction.
That b*stard wasn’t aiming at me. It just so happened that I was standing in the path of the Breath, that was all.
Indeed, I was rather unlucky. The truth was, most of the accidents happened because of some bad luck, and the victim at the end would lose his life. And it was my turn to become that victim.
I realised that it was too late to do anything after seeing the ray of blinding light about to swallow me up. I couldn’t even do anything and just stood there, frozen.
I resigned myself to my fate.
While facing the light enveloping my entire vision, I began thinking to myself. Maybe this was… a punishment for completely forgetting about my pledge of allegiance to the previous liege?
‘If so, then I shall gladly accept it.’
After all, I was a sinner, wasn’t I?
And so, as I quietly waited for my final moments approaching me at the speed of light…
…In that blink of a moment, someone stood before me and extended his hand out to block the ‘Breath of Destruction’.
His left hand was burning away from the horrifying attack of the Dragon Emperor, but he showed no signs of pulling away.
I watched him defending against the flames capable of burning away everything in the universe for my sake and even before I had realised it, I was calling out in desperation.
Once the Breath of Destruction came to its end, my liege turned to look at me with rebuking eyes.
Just like back when he loudly yelled out my name, I woke up again with a start just now. My liege scanned my condition for a moment or two, before dashing towards the Dragon Emperor again.
I too, raised up my sword in order to cut down the Dragonewts trying to surround me.
Blades clashed with blades once more to create flying sparks, and the Dragonewts being cut down by my sword screamed out in anguish.
I had never forgotten about my previous liege. My loyalty to that person simply had been extended to my current liege, that was all.
How could me staying loyal with all my being to the inheritor the previous liege had personally chosen, be seen as a bad thing, a sin?
‘I am a knight.’
I was a sword of my liege.
I was one of the twin wings that led the Shadow Army.
If a one in ten thousand chance occurred… if I were to face the moment where I had to part ways with the current liege, then I’d add the words of farewell I didn’t get to say to the previous liege as well.
Every day I fought under my liege had been honour and privilege to me.
I roared out viciously and pounced on the Dragons dashing towards my direction.
The lengthy war ended safely, and we all returned to the liege’s homeworld.
My liege was focused on studying until late at night. Hidden inside his shadow and sharing his vision, I decided to offer my advice.
[My liege, the answer to the 14th question was not the first one, but the second option.]
“Ah, really? Thanks.”
Thanks to not being able to meet the minimum required number of school attendance days, my liege was unfairly expelled from this institution called ‘middle school’ and now found himself stepping into a brand-new battlefield, called ‘GED’.
Although he maintained near-perfect score in every mock test he participated in, there were still a few problems that did slip through the cracks of inattention every now and then.
But, whenever something like that happened, just who was qualified to lend the liege his aid?
Grand-Marshal Bellion, who only had his huge physique and nothing else? Or Marshal Beru, who could legitimately claim to be pretty smart but ultimately, still a lousy insect at heart?
In the end, it fell upon myself to counsel our liege, as I had graduated the knight training school with top marks when I was still a human being.
“Hey, by the way, here, it says that the answer to the 14th question is… the first one? Igrit, can you really stake your life on the second one?”
My liege opened up the answer sheet and pointed out my flaw with razor-sharp accuracy. So, as befitting a knight, I owned up to it.
[It seems that my training is still quite lacking, my liege. I shall devote myself even further to my liege’s cause.]
I am my liege’s knight.
My liege’s sword.
The battlefield of my liege is my battlefield; now that he had stepped into a new war, it seemed that my glorious days would continue on for a little while longer.