My Death Flags Show No Sign Of Ending - Volume 2 - Chapter 100
Both of his hands felt heavy as he held his sword. The mere act of holding his stance to keep the point of his blade above the ground was making him even more tired.
Despite all the aberrant training that he was usually putting his body through, Harold was reaching the limits of his endurance.
More than an hour had passed since the start of the battle. That would not have been a problem for him in an ordinary fight, but this was a fight to the death, against an opponent who was as strong as him. Using a long sword over a long period of time in this setting was not good for his mental.
While Harold had speed on his side, his opponent was launching one attack after the other to cover that gap, and a single clean hit from any of those blows would be powerful enough to bring the battle to its end. Although that alone was troublesome enough, the attacks were also rapidly becoming more precise.
There were already several times where Harold had failed to dodge the blows and had blocked them instead, but his defense was surpassed by the damage created by Vincent's strength and the mass of his sword. Owing to that, Harold's left hand was severely numb, having almost completely lost its grip, and his black sword had already fallen to the ground.
Earlier, he had been afraid that the enemy's blade would completely overwhelm his guard and strike him directly, so he was now feeling relieved knowing that he could somewhat defend himself. Even so, his whole body was creaking and his face was distorted in pain.
He was running out of breath, and although he had no fatal injuries, his body was full of bleeding wounds. Harold's battle against Vincent was simply that fierce.
Vincent was brandishing a large sword that closely resembled a Zanbato, or a long Katana. There was currently too much distance between the two foes for that sword's length to be of any use, but a light blue aura was starting to appear on its blade. Harold immediately recognized said aura and jumped even further away from Vincent.
As if implying that he did not care about that, Vincent swung the sword down to strike the floor beneath him.
There was a heavy, crushing sound. The floor broke into many pieces that then rose up in the air.
That move alone was clearly absurdly powerful, but there was more to this attack. Immediately after Vincent's blade struck the ground, space distortions appeared all around Harold. Those distortions were actually highly compressed air, formed under the pressure of Vincent's sword.
The next instant, the distortions turned into plasma, and exploded together with their surroundings.
This was one of Vincent's techniques that also appeared in the original story, and it was one of the very few attack methods that he had that wasn't short-ranged.
Harold managed to dodge by a hair's breadth. Although this attack did not deal much damage in the game, Harold had to consider the fact that this was Vincent and that not a single one of his attacks could be taken head-on.
And, above all, in the game, each of the plasma attacks would appear at a predetermined distance of about one meter (3 feet) only, but here, they were generated at random in a fan-shaped area that started from the point where Vincent's sword had struck the ground. The technique's area of effect was much wider than in the game, and it was therefore harder to dodge. There was only a second between the moment when the distortions appeared in the air and the moment when they turned into plasma and exploded.
If Harold was hit even a single time, there was a very high risk that Vincent would rush at him immediately after.
’’How the hell can you create plasma by just swinging down your sword?!’’ Harold almost voiced out such complaints, while ignoring the fact that his own speed and movement went completely against the laws of physics.
But when he considered things calmly, he knew he was not one to talk, and that this world was simply a complete fantasy in this regard.
Despite all of that, Harold was still putting quite a lot of pressure on Vincent, as a matter of fact, they were currently on equal standing. Perhaps it could even be said that Harold had the advantage considering the fact that Vincent was more injured than him.
Harold had been continuously attacking and retreating while aiming at the thin parts of Vincent's armor and the small gaps within it. The damage dealt through that method was not much, but it had been accumulating. At this point, most of the hard material under Vincent's armor had already been destroyed.
The wounds and blood that Harold could see on Vincent's body were a proof of that.
(And yet his movements haven't weakened at all, that makes no sense...!)
On the contrary, Vincent was adapting to Harold's movements. Seeing how he was incoherently murmuring ’’Eliminating the target is the top priority’’ over and over again, it did not seem like Vincent currently had a sense of self or reason, and assuming he was able to disregard pain and tiredness due to that, then the fact that his attacks had not weakened would not be difficult to believe.
However, Harold figured that if that was the case, Vincent's movements would normally be more monotonous and lackluster. Yet while Vincent's expressionless face was somewhat reminiscent of Lilium and Ventos, he was not fighting as mechanically and straightforwardly as them.
At first, Harold's strategy had been to create an opening from a distance through diversions and disturbances, and to then jump at his opponent to attack and withdraw. However, after Harold repeated that a few times, Vincent counter-attacked.
He avoided Harold's blow and pretended to counter-attack. Fooled by that feint, Harold tried to dodge but it was then that that Vincent's real counter came.
As one would expect, Harold was unable to avoid that one, so he blocked it with his sword instead, but he was still blown several meters away.
If Lilium and Ventos were robots programmed to repeat a regular set of movements, then Vincent would be a robot with an artificial intelligence that gathers experience and changes its movements accordingly. That was basically the difference between them.
And the fact was that, compared to the first stage of the fight, it was becoming more and more difficult for Harold to attack.
(... Hold on, hold on, don't tell me he's actually learning?)
That was just a passing thought, but even since Harold had taken over this body, he was sometimes struck with bad premonitions which would very often turn out to be true.
And if his thoughts were right, then that would mean he was facing a killing machine which not only did not fear attacks and could therefore keep moving when taking damage, but it could also study its opponents' movements. Moreover, since Vincent himself was also initially very powerful, his attacks could kill Harold in a single blow, and his defense was like that of a fortress.
To make matters worse, because Vincent was currently brainwashed, his fighting pattern was not the same as it was in the game, therefore Harold's knowledge of the original story was meaningless here.
【’’Heh, so what?’’】
Said Harold, only to act tough. But when that mutter actually came out of his mouth, it suddenly sounded determined and full of confidence.
Perhaps it was odd, but――Harold was actually encouraging himself.
'If you hardly know any of his patterns, then you just have to figure out new ones.
If he's studying your movements, then use that against him.
Harold Stokes can do it. You know that better than anyone else.'
Harold let out a forced but fearless laugh to encourage himself even more. And the next moment, he let go of his restrained position and dashed forward at top speed.
'Air Dash'. The first time Harold had used this technique in an actual fight was in his battle against the Sarian empire's mage, Ritzert. At the time, he was already doing the impossible by being able to speed up or change directions while using the skill, but since then, several years had passed and he had perfectly mastered the use of three dimensional maneuvers at high speeds in the air.
However, while back then, Harold had been too fast for the enemy;in this fight, Vincent was quite capable of coping with Harold's speed.
Even so, despite being aware that his move would be seen through, Harold still rushed towards Vincent's chest. At his maximum speed, he kicked the ground to fly even further away from his initial position, and he then kicked the air through the air dash technique in order to take his opponent's back.
Harold was aiming for Vincent's neck. Such a vital area was, of course, protected by Vincent's armor, but Harold's goal was neither to kill nor to to deal any damage to him, his aim was the act of ’’slashing’’ itself. Then, just like Harold expected, Vincent used his left gauntlet to stop the blow.
Even since the start of the battle, Vincent had been using his gauntlet to block any attacks that he was seeing for the first time. But after Harold used the same slashing attack twice and then thrice, Vincent counter-attacked instead of blocking the blow.
Harold dodged and sneaked behind Vincent while preparing to attack.
In response, Vincent released a punch behind himself with his left arm. His main goal was not actually to attack, rather, it was to prevent Harold from attacking again.
Although Vincent was not holding his sword with his left hand, the attack was still sharp and powerful. Moreover, if Harold received the blow, not only would he lose his stance, but Vincent's large sword would also come at him right after.
Yet, despite being aware of that, Harold still dared to take the punch. The gauntlet was not as strong as the large sword, but it still was powerful enough that if he had taken on the punch directly without defending, he would have had to prepare himself to break a bone or two.
Then, the instant after he blocked the punch, the large blade of Vincent's sword came swinging down at him. This blow alone could put an end to the whole battle, and at worst, it could even kill Harold on the spot.
But he still barely managed to avoid the attack.
He would normally dodge such an attack by jumping backwards, yet this time, he stepped forward instead, letting the sword pass him by, almost grazing him.
This had been a gamble. Harold absolutely could not have afforded to receive that counter-attack. If his timing had been off by the slightest of delays, he would likely have been cut in half starting from his back or from the back of his head.
It might have been impossible for him to avoid the blade if his battle capabilities were not currently being boosted by his sword. Still, while feeling the ground break under Vincent's sword, Harold slipped right through death's fingers.
Following that move, he once again went behind Vincent.
However, Harold could not use a counterattack at this point. Although the last action of his set of movements had taken a mere instant, it was precisely because of that that he had needed a high concentration to do it properly. And it was simply too difficult for him to directly get on the offensive the moment after.
To prepare to start yet another exchange, he opened the distance between Vincent and him again. With this, the series of movements Harold had just used was likely going to be much harder to pull off again. The reason the fight had been lasting for so long was that, because he had been at a loss as to how he could win the battle, Harold had been trying various things to study the pattern behind Vincent's actions, but the process had prevented him from dealing any decisive damage.
And what Harold had learned was that Vincent would always counter attack against his moves after seeing them around three times.
(So, I have to pave the way for that third time now.)
Harold took a breath and repeated the series of movements he had used right before, with the determination to put his life on the line. The second time was even more dangerous than the first. As the sword passed by the side of Harold's head by the end of his choreography, he was able to hear the wind generated by the blade much closer to his ear than before. He even noticed a piece of cloth, which had been sliced off of him, fall at the feet of Vincent.
Vincent was able to follow Harold's moves much better this second time.
'If he does it a third time, I'll kill him for sure' Vincent was surely thinking so, assuming that his brain still had the ability to think at all.
Any mistake here would spell Harold's death. Harold was terrified as he waited for that which he had been continuously avoiding.
Running away was not an option. In this situation, he needed to jump at the side of death in order to survive.
(...I guess now is the time. Really, I should have made my resolve way earlier. )
Harold clearly understood now. He had not been fighting against his fated death, he had been escaping from escaping from it.
Although once he used his ’’switch’’, his feelings of fear were pushed away by the small parts of Harold that still remained within him, that did not mean that Kazuki himself was able to confront his fear of death. Perhaps that escapism was coming back to bite him in the form of Vincent.
Therefore, right now, both Kazuki and Harold needed to take action.
Kazuki needed the resolve to fight alongside Harold Stokes. He needed the resolve to challenge fate itself.
Kazuki's resolve, his knowledge about the game, and Harold's capabilities. Without all of that, it would be impossible for Harold to win against Vincent or Justus.
【’’I'm coming for you, you damn puppet!’’】
And so, Harold jumped to the side of death for the third time.
He sneaked behind Vincent while avoiding a sword slash that was coming at him. Once again, Harold had taken the back of Vincent, but this third time, Vincent's response was even faster than before. Vincent released a punch behind himself without giving Harold any time to take a fighting stance, but Harold blocked it by using his sword as a shield.
Up to here, everything had happened like the first two times.
Vincent's large sword was already coming from over Harold's head. Even if Harold stepped forward or jumped behind, he would most likely be unable to avoid the attack. Therefore, he stayed where he was.
Then, he pivoted off his left foot like a gate opening, therefore shifting his whole body slightly to the left. In its vertical descent, the large sword missed Harold by a paper-thin margin.
However, unlike the first two times, the sword was not swung down low enough to smash the ground. That was because Vincent believed that if he did this, his response would be delayed once Harold would move behind him.
This was the result of Vincent studying the pattern behind his enemy's movements. Vincent assumed his opponent's next move and optimized his own movements accordingly.
So, what would happen if Harold moved outside of Vincent's assumptions? The answer to that were the innumerable scratches and wounds on Vincent's armor and body.
Most of those damages had been dealt immediately after the start of the fight, before Vincent could accumulate data about the patterns behind Harold's way of fighting. Which meant that the longer a fight against Vincent lasted, the more disadvantageous it would become for his opponent, unless a decisive blow was dealt at the very beginning.
But there was a flaw to this way of fighting. Vincent's ability to learn patterns was only a passive technique.
Although he was able to respond upon being attacked, he could not use his own attacks as a starting point to control or predict his enemy's actions. Perhaps that was some kind of technical limitation.
In any case, the current situation was outside of Vincent's expectations. Harold moved at a spot that was even further away from the sword that Vincent had swung down with his right hand. Vincent did not have time to raise back his sword to attack, and since, earlier, he had attacked with the gauntlet on his left arm, which was his main means of defense, it was now too far away from Harold.
The problem was that this was the perfect distance for Vincent's fighting style. Moreover, Harold was not currently using any spells to accelerate himself, and speed was what he needed to release an attack light enough to allow him to directly follow up with a combo and yet powerful enough to make his opponent flinch.
That would not be an issue if Harold used a special technique or magic. However, those techniques needed to us mana, and he would therefore need to slightly charge them before using them. He did not know at all if a normal sword attack would work, but he did know that at this distance, and with an opponent like Vincent, using up time to charge an attack would create too much of a gap for the enemy to exploit.
Then, what was he going to do? Harold's answer to that was neither to use a normal attack nor a magic attack.
His answer was to use his bare hand, striking with his palm.
A jab with the heel of his palm was going to be much faster than swinging his sword. In the game, the 'Palm strike' technique was only worth anything when used in the middle of a combo. Moreover, Harold was going to use it with his left with his left hand, which had such a weak grip that he could not hold his sword with it, and given how strong Vincent's defense was, the technique would deal a ridiculously small amount of damage to him.
―― Or at least, it would if Harold was actually using the game's technique.
【’’ 'Thunder Palm strike' !’’】
As his palm struck Vincent's jaw, an electric shock was simultaneously transferred from Harold's left hand.
In the eight years he had devoted to avoiding death flags, he had learned all of the techniques that Harold Stokes could use in the game. He had also tried to learn the techniques of other characters. And, on top of that, he had put some effort into figuring out new techniques that had not appeared in the game.
This ’’Lightning palm strike’’ was one of them. As its name implied, this technique combined a strike from the palm with an electric shock.
Truthfully, this attack did not deal much damage either. That was because, just like for any other such skill, the electric shock would need to be charged before attacking in order to deal any real damage.
But this technique did not waste any time on charging. Harold simply released the palm strike and let the electric shock charge itself in the short time it took for his hand to reach Vincent. Because of that, neither the physical aspect of the attack nor the electricity dealt much damage.
However, it was effective enough. All that Harold needed was to paralyze Vincent's muscles with the electricity so as to stop him from moving, even if only for an instant.
The brainwashing allowed Vincent to disregard any pain, but no matter how brainwashed he had been, it was still impossible to restrain the natural responses of a living being's body. Even if he had some of the characteristics of a game character, Vincent was still a human being.
Vincent did not say a word and there was no change in his facial expression, but Harold could tell that he had successfully made his muscles flex and freeze up, just like planned. In the fight between these two particular opponents, a single moment of stagnation was still much too long, to the point of being fatal.
By the time Vincent managed to move his body again, it was already too late.
The sword attack, which Harold had secretly been charging to the maximum, hit Vincent right in his abdomen. Even so, Vincent did not fall., He raised his head and tried to swing his sword some more, but that was not enough of a threat for Harold.
Harold was attacking continuously, without giving Vincent any opportunity to use his weapon. The more he attacked, the more powerful his attacks became.
After Vincent's armor was burnt off by the lightning attacks, his upper body was pushed backwards by a thrust of Harold's sword. Right after that, Harold drove a strong spinning kick towards Vincent's abdomen, which was now defenseless. But before Vincent could fall down, Harold went behind him and slashed his sword up. Then, Vincent was sent floating into the sky by Harold's ’’Lightning Bird’’ skill.
However, Harold's combo was still not over. That was because he understood that a superficial attack would never be enough to take down his opponent. Before long, his combo had reached a count of one hundred hits. Vincent's body had risen remarkably high up.
And then, Harold held his sword straight upwards right under Vincent's body, and the point of the blade started radiating with an intense light.
That was Harold's strongest technique, it could take away a little more than 60% of the total HP that the main character of the game had at level 100, which was the game's highest level cap in the first playthrough.
A lightning attack was fired from the tip of the blade, creating a tear in space around the ceiling of the ruins, and from there fell a bolt of lightning that hit Vincent's body together with Harold's sword.
Then, Harold swung down the sword as if to cut Vincent in two.
【’’ 'Lightning clash' !!’’】
A loud sound of thunder, that did not fit in the ruins, resounded. The ruins trembled as a thunderstorm raised a cloud of dust in the area.
after a while, the cloud slightly cleared up, as a single person's shadow appeared from inside.
The man was gasping for breath, but he spoke to his fallen opponent as arrogantly as ever.
【’’Looking good over there, Vincent―― but this is my win.’’】