*Disclaimer note: This is merely a translation of the original Chinese version. I do not claim any part in the creation of the original story.
The day for the three person battle finally arrived. Early in the morning of the momentous day, the Holy Temple had cleared out. Everyone had left early for the duelling arena to get good seats, clearly anticipating the upcoming fight.
"Honestly. Even the knights on patrol duty have completely disappeared. They should be on alert in the case of any emergencies. Even though we are in an age of peace right now, there are our rivals from the Church of War on our territory right now. Geez… The whole Holy Temple is as quiet as a grave! This is just too ridiculous!"
"If that is so then you guys can stay here and guard the place," I told them as I released the Sun Knight Division from their holding cells.
They looked extremely reluctant and unenthusiastic.
"What…… Why did it turn out like this?... And I had hoped to watch the fight after being released, captaaaiiinnnn!"
24 men dressed in the uniforms of holy knights looked at me with huge puppy eyes, each calling me captain and stretching out the word 'captain'. As I looked on at this scene I couldn't help feeling……
"How nauseating! Scram!"
I roared at them, annoyed. When I turned around however, I saw my vice-captain Adair standing in front of me, his shoulders slumped dejectedly.
He gave me a bitter smile and said sincerely, "Captain, I will fulfil my duty as your vice-captain and make sure the Sun Knight Division guards the Holy Temple well in your absence. Even though I cannot help but feel disappointed that I would miss such an opportunity to see you as you valiantly battle and rise victoriously over the other two competitors, this Adair will definitely obey your every order, I just feel so disappointed…… sigh!"
"If you feel that disappointed then come over to the competition after you've arranged their guard shifts."
"Yes, sir!" Adair seemed to have instantly revived.
After dismissing Adair, I turned to gauge the position of the sun. I still had yet to pick up someone else; if I don't hurry now I might be late.
Even though arriving late to some occasion has never fazed me before, when the people forced to await my arrival include the King of a country, a Princess, my own church's Pope and several other VIPs, then it might be a little bad.
As I walked away, I could hear some shouts and scuffles erupting from behind me.
When I reached the door leading out of the Holy Temple and looked around, I immediately found the person I was looking for. He was standing quietly in a corner. I gave him a nod of acknowledgement before continuing on to the battle arena, secure in the knowledge that he would follow after me.
As I made my way into the arena, the royal knights standing guard gave me a nod in acknowledgement, but when they looked back up again they immediately stopped the person following behind me.
Their apprehension drew the crowd's attention, and soon everyone had turned to look at the entrance as well as the strangely dressed person standing there.
The man was wearing a skin-tight black outfit, his lower face, chest, lower legs and various other vulnerable areas were covered with silver armour in the curious pattern of scales. Although his outfit was obviously that of an assassin's, he had a long sword hanging from his waist instead of the usual assassins' favourite short sword or dagger.
I raised my voice and stopped the guards, saying "He is not a suspicious person; he is from the Holy Temple. Please allow him to enter."
Everyone looked curious at this, but the reactions of the Twelve Holy Knights were even greater. A few of them kept looking between the man and me, shooting us looks of suspicion.
I smiled at the crowd and introduced, "This is the Hell Knight Captain, recently returned from completing a secret mission and finally back with us where he belongs."
The Blaze Knight was the first to exclaim, "What?! He's not Sun—No, I mean Slayer?"
I nodded my head and said, "Oh! That's right, the Hell Knight Captain's full name is Slayer Hell. You weren't wrong when you called him Slayer. However Blaze Knight Captain, when in front of others you should still address him as Hell Knight Captain, so as not to lead others to misunderstand his position."
Blaze stared at us with his mouth gaped open, seemingly at a loss for words. He wasn't the only one surprised, for the other Twelve Holy Knights had expressions of shock, doubt and even disbelief on their faces.
As the crowd broke into conversations about the surprising information, I took a look around the whole area. The audience were clearly divided into three groups; the royal knights' region, the Church of War's warriors' region and the holy knights' region.
The royal knights surrounded the King's box and the Church of War's people were seated opposite them, with the holy knights sitting on both sides and in between the other two parties, providing some sort of neutral ground. After all, with the royal knights and the Church of War's warriors all glaring at each other so fiercely, one can't help wondering if it was actually a battle between two groups and not a fight between three men that was about to commence.
The Son of War was standing near the duelling stage; the seats directly behind him filled with his Church's warriors, all rooting for him.
The other competitor representing the royal knights, Elliot, was sitting opposite the Son of War, the duelling stage rising between them. However at the moment he was staring at the so called 'Slayer Hell', his face and expression all stiff.
Her Highness the Princess was not seated by her brother, the King, and had instead chosen to seat herself behind Elliot, in a box specially prepared by her to show her support for her beloved, utterly ignoring the other two competitors for her hand in marriage. The Son of War's displeasure at this blatant favouritism was shown clearly on his face as he scowled at them, but I merely maintained the calm and serene smile on my face.
The Princess was casting suspicious looks at Slayer Hell, when she turned to give me a warning look, cautioning me not to play any tricks.
Back then, I had not told the Princess much about my plans, only filing her in till up to the three-person fight. I had promised her that I would help her beloved to achieve victory, but neglected to mention anything else. Actually, I couldn't tell her about them or else I would have definitely found myself tied to a burning stake.
Just then, the King slowly spoke up. "From the way you spoke, it would seem that the Twelve Holy Knights do not recognise their own comrade."
I swept an elegant bow to the King before explaining, "Yes, Your Majesty. Other than this Sun, the others do not know this comrade."
"Oh? This sounds interesting." The King's curiosity was piqued.
I nodded and explained, "Of the Twelve Holy Knights, the position the Hell Knight holds is a unique one. With the changing of different eras, so too will the Hell Knight's duties change. However, he is usually in charge of the more secret and low-profile missions. For example, during periods of unrest and war, the Hell Knight of that period would be in charge of gathering enemy intel."
"So from what you're saying, the Hell Knight's existence is actually that of a spy or an assassin, is that right?"
One of the King's trusted knights, the younger one, gave an incredulous and mocking laugh as he said, "So there are actually knights among the Twelve Holy Knights who do these sneaky underhanded things?"
Elliot standing to the side had lowered his head.
"It is not like that," I denied with a rare severe expression.
After pausing a moment, I continued on, "With the God of Light's guidance, all holy knights have pledged themselves to upholding true justice, and not the justice of the ignorant and uneducated. However, during times of war, having a good grasp on the enemy's movements and plans is vital. Not only does having accurate intel on the enemy help to reduce the sacrifices of our fellow holy knight brothers, we can also attempt to bring the war to an end as quickly as possible so as to spare the God of Light's people from unnecessary suffering. However, enemy intelligence will not come to us freely, much less can we hope to get correct and accurate from questioning. To get this precious intelligence, someone has to sacrifice their freedom of standing in the light and enter the darkness. They do so not only to lessen the God of Light's people's suffering and to protect their own holy knight brothers, but also to carry out the true meaning of the God of Light's justice."
I discreetly snuck a look at Elliot. His tight expression had loosened up and he looked a little cheered up. I said softly, "Please believe me that no matter that a holy knight may have their backs turned from the light and face into the darkness, they still walk under the light and not within the dark."
After I had finished my explanations, everyone looked to be in deep thoughts as they thought about what I had just said. The Princess had even thrown me a small smile; probably 'cause this speech of mine had cheered up her lover.
However, my words were not only applicable to the Hell Knight, but also in line with all members of the Cold Blood Faction, and especially their leader, the Judge Knight.
The King nodded lightly and said, "Sun Knight, you have just deepened my understanding about the holy knights."
"It is this Sun's honour to be able to enlighten Your Majesty, and it is also by the will of the God of Light."
"Captain Sun Knight, are you done talking?" The Son of War was trying to maintain his poise, but his irritation could be heard in his voice as he said, "If you're done then let's start the duel!"
"My most humble apologies for making you wait. Now, let the God of Light with Her radiance bear witness to our friendly duel today."
As I said that I moved forward to step upon the stage…… however, a black and silver figure suddenly stopped in front of me, blocking my way.
I stopped in surprise and asked him questioningly, "Brother Hell, is something wrong?"
The Hell Knight said simply, "Fighting is not something the Sun Knight should do; please allow me, your substitute, to fight in your place."
Upon hearing this I let out a soft, "Ah…" However, the King was quick on the uptake as he questioned, "Substitute?"
"Hmm. Well, this…" I looked at the King a little troubled as I started to speak, but breaking off, clearly reluctant to answer the King.
The King gave the younger of his trusted knights a look, and the later immediately said loudly with dissatisfaction, "What's this? Could it be that the upright and straightforward Sun Knight hides a terrible secret that he cannot speak off?"
I purposely turned back to look at the Judge Knight, for he was the only person capable of collaborating with me even without knowing what was going on.
So, while he might not have the slightest idea of what I intended, he was able to co-operate beautifully as he said in a slightly angry tone, "If you insist on speaking then know that you will have to bear the consequences."
I hesitated before giving a sigh and started explaining to the King. "It is like this, Your Majesty. The first Hell Knight was suspected to be actually the Sun Knight in disguise, and not a real person. However no matter whether the first Hell Knight was real or not, the following Hell Knights definitely exist, but at the same time they have been entrusted with bearing the Sun Knight's secret identity, as their substitute."
After explaining it to the King, I turned to the Hell Knight and tried to persuade him from his decision. "Captain Hell Knight, please step aside, this is a duel that I have to fight myself."
Hell growled angrily, "If you will not allow me, your substitute, to go in your place and instead insist on fighting this duel yourself then you would have destroyed the meaning for my existence. You will have to kill me and walk over my dead body if you wish to go up that stage."
I could not say anything to that. On the other hand, there was a commotion amongst the crowd, for it was rare to hear a typically composed and self disciplined holy knight say something so out of control.
"Captain Hell Knight, I cannot allow you to substitute me," I sighed as I said exasperatedly, "If you were to win this fight, how can it be considered my victory?"
"Then please walk over my dead body as you step up to the stage," the Hell Knight replied coldly.
"That's impossible…… please step aside, Captain Hell Knight," I said, getting a little angry.
"No!" With just that one word, one could hear his determination and defiance.
We were now at a stalemate with neither willing to give an inch. The Hell Knight stared at me steadily…… or should I say, he worked hard to maintain his steady gaze, however I was confident that this shouldn't prove too hard for him as he's always been an extremely steady person.
"Why don't you let the Hell Knight Captain take your place?"
The tense impasse was surprisingly broken by the Princess.
She said in a soft and gentle voice, "If it is someone who would lay down their life for you, it should make no difference as to whether you are fighting the duel personally or not, Captain Sun Knight."
I shook my head and sighed, "But Princess, the other two contestants might not agree to this arrangement."
Elliot gave it some thought before answering, "If the Princess has no objection to this arrangement, then I accept it too."
The Son of War, on the other hand, did not reply, frowning heavily at the idea. I could understand his reluctance to agreeing, for although he had no idea how strong the Hell Knight was, anyone would have been stronger than me.
Quickly adding fuel to the fire, I said, "It would be perfectly normal for the Son of War to refuse this arrangement. After all, it would be unfair to him if the Captain Hell Knight were to win the duel."
Upon hearing this, the Son of War's expression darkened as he gave a snort and said, "Who said I refused? It wouldn't matter who fights me, for victory shall be mine."
The King nodded at that.
Seeing as all those entitled to refusing the arrangement had agreed, the matter was settled and the three men fighting for the Princess' hand in marriage stepped up onto the stage as they prepared for the fight.
As one of the contestants for the Princess' hand in marriage, I instead walked over to the group of Twelve Holy Knights and took my place beside the Judge Knight.
The corner of the Judge Knight's lips twitched upward as he said softly, "You had no intention of even stepping onto that stage, did you?"
"Of course. I have no interest in getting the shit beaten out of me in front of everyone," I replied matter-of-factly. I then gave him a glance and asked questioningly, "Judge, with your deductive abilities, you should have known that from the moment you saw me reading Cloud's book on whatever lucky charms. Or did you actually think that I am someone who would depend on lucky charms to help me in my plans? Unless I have 200 percent certainty, or at the very least 100 percent certainty, I would never make a move so 'boldly'."
"Ah… yes. Silly me."
Judge shook his head and said a little vexed, "Forget seeing you with the book, I should have known from the moment you agreed to the duel that you would never allow yourself to step onto the stage and fight them."
I rolled my eyes at him in annoyance. 'What does he mean by that?! I have fought and dealt with the undead before…… some of the undead creatures Pink sends me are strong, you know!'
Just then, a servant walked up to me and said respectfully, "Sun Knight, the King is asking for your presence."
I nodded at him and followed him, fearlessly giving the King a smile. Even if he's realised that I had manipulated events leading to this, he can't actually do anything to me here and now in front of so many, now can he?
The King waved away the two trusted knights standing beside him, and they quickly put some distance between us to give us some privacy.
The King then gestured me to come closer. I walked up the steps to stand by his side, bending down to hear him. "If it weren't for the fact that my sister actually likes Elliot, I would never have let you mess with everything."
"Although this Sun does not know to which Your Majesty is referring to, this Sun is deeply impressed by your great love for your sibling," I said with heartfelt sincerity.
Indeed, if the King had stubbornly insisted on marrying his sister to the Son of War, he could have come up with at least ten different ways of stopping my plans, and then continue on with his original plans to marry off his sister to the Church of War. But he had done neither of those things and had instead turned a blind eye to my interventions, allowing things to unfold as they had.
"Hmph! If you had come up with such an elaborate plan and yet still can't let my sister marry her one true love, leaving behind a mess of things, you had better watch out!"
As an older brother worried for his sister's happiness, the King warned me and gave me a hard glare before turning to watch the fight with a frown.
The King's frown was not without reason, for even after receiving special training from Judge, Elliot's chances of winning against the Son of War were still nearly as low as mine.
I knew this, Judge knew this, the entire Church of War knew this, the royal knights knew this, and even the King knew this.
But what they did not know was that there are many different definitions of winning, especially when it comes to fighting for a woman's affections.
When I left the King's side and returned to the Twelve Holy Knights, the three men on the stage had already started fighting. The first to attack was the Son of War. Warriors have always placed emphasis on making the first move, while knights prefer to take a defensive stance rather than the offensive, and as such they are rarely the first to attack.
"Excellent swordsmanship!" The Judge Knight murmured, his eagerness for a strong sparring partner gleaming in his eyes.
This was not, of course, in praise of Elliot, for while Elliot's skills were not bad they were nothing for Judge to exclaim about. He was referring to Rol—the Hell Knight on the stage whom was battling it out with the Son of War.
Right from the beginning of the duel the Son of War clearly knew who his real opponent was, for even though on the surface it appeared to be a three-person duel, it was actually mainly a fight between the Son of War and the Hell Knight.
The Son of War had thought of eliminating Elliot first before turning to focus his attention on the Hell Knight, but the former's footwork was too strange, and his swordsmanship was not bad either. He could not defeat Elliot quickly, much less with a Hell Knight watching his every movement for an opening.
Even the Son of War would find himself losing should he not pay attention to the Hell Knight in a fight.
All the above are as explained by our expert, the Judge Knight.
To be honest, I could only make out the flashes from the weapons and the shadows of three people as they parry and evade blows and hits, as well as a bunch of clanging sounds from the clashes of their weapons…… Thank God I hadn't stepped up to the fight, or else just the sounds from all the clashing weapons would have pained me greatly.
"If you were on that stage you wouldn't be hearing the clanging sounds as you would have lost in an instant." That was what Judge had said to me upon hearing my comment.
"However don't be disheartened, your speciality is in dealing with the undead. If it was a competition in dealing with undead creatures you are stronger than all three of them." He then consoled me.
"But if it were dealing with living creatures, you're not even one tenth of Elliot's strength and skill." After consoling me he stabbed me with another even more depressing truth.
Now in a rather bad mood, I asked defiantly, "And between you and Hell Knight, who would be stronger?"
Judge merely gave me a glance and said slowly, "Hard to say. You know what I mean."
I immediately shut up as I remembered that Slayer Hell was not limited to fighting with a sword. In fact, fighting with a sword was actually his least threatening ability.
But then again, if he really wished to go all out against 'Slayer Hell', then the Judge Knight as a holy knight was not limited to fighting with his sword either.
Although it's hard to say for sure who would win in a fight between the both of them, one thing is for sure. Judge is already aware of Slayer Hell's true identity.
Even though I had had no intention of hiding it from Judge, his amazing powers of observation are really scary. If I had to really hide something from him one day, I doubt I would have an easy time of it.
"How did you find out who he is?" I couldn't help asking in a low voice.
"Such skilled swordsmanship is easy to recognise."
'Oh I see. Skilled swordsmen are so annoying!'
"Your expression is saying that all skilled swordsmen should go to hell." Judge glanced at me from a corner of his eye.
"If you continue guessing everything right I'm going to start believing that you are not really the Judge Knight but a mind reading alien."
Judge looked away from me, but his lips were curling into a minute smile. I reluctantly asked him, "What's happening now?"
"The Son of War is definitely worthy of his position as head of the warriors. His skill is not something to be underestimated. If Slayer Hell does not use his other abilities other than his sword he would surely lose."
"Even under the combined attacks of Elliot and Slayer Hell the Son of War is still going to win?" I clarified.
"As can be expected from the Son of War, he surely is strong!" I sighed in admiration.
"Your expression is saying that thank goodness I never thought to step up to the fight."
"Shut up, alien!"
Judge's eyes were filled with laughter.
Thank goodness everyone was focussing on the fight and no one was paying attention to him, or else the sight of the ever cruel and stern Judge Knight smiling would have given a whole bunch of people the shock of their lives.
Sensing that it was about time, I warned Judge in a low voice, "No matter what happens, don't make any moves."
Judge nodded and said decisively, "Then I think I should leave first, or else others might get suspicious of my lack of action."
I nodded at that. 'As expected of Judge, he always thinks of everything.'
"And this way I can avoid finding out just what exactly you've done."
…… yeah, it's for the best. I wouldn't want to find out from him first hand that I've reached the end of his endurance and be beaten up by him for my actions.
After watching Judge walk out the arena, I turned to look back at the stage. The clanging sounds had not stopped for even a second, and the Frenzy from the three contestants were so strong that the force from them were strong enough to blow my hair into disarray. There were several large cracks in the duelling stage, and the small pieces of rocks were being blown about by the frenzy.
The eyes of the audience-regardless of them being knights or warriors- were all glued to the fight as if fearing of missing a single moment of it. From time to time, they would exclaim with cheers or shouts of amazement.
It was time, I thought. If this continues on Elliot might be pushed past his limit and lose, and everything would have been for naught. Also, most importantly, I have no idea how I was going to resolve everything should that happen.
If Elliot were to lose the fight, I still can't allow the Son of War marry the Princess, so would that mean I have to marry her? I'd probably have to wear my armour to sleep on my wedding night to spare my wife from attaining the reputation of killing her husband.
I reached into my pocket and broke a heart-shaped piece of glass.