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25 The one the world rejects [3]

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With my vision obscured by the darkness, all I could perceive were sounds.

Rustle--

The sound of the bushes moving past me.

"Haaa... Haaa..."

The sound of my breath.

Crunch... Crunch...

The crunching sound of my feet stepping on the foliage beneath.

How long had I been running for...?

I had lost track by now.

.....I had been running so much that my legs were starting to feel heavy and my lungs were on fire. Questions such as, 'Did I run far enough? Am I safe? Can I stop?' repeatedly flooded my mind as I continued to move forward.

My mind wavered in such moments

'Will the ending be the same as in the vision...? Am I destined to die?'

"Haaa..."

I took a deep breath and stopped.

I wasn't scared of death.

Death was something I had already experienced.

There was nothing scary about it.

If anything, it felt liberating.

But...

"Not this way."

This wasn't how I wanted to die.

Not just that... Just because I wasn't scared of death didn't mean that I looked forward to death.

There were things that I wanted to do.

Achieve.

A person that I wanted to meet again.

I couldn't let myself die like that.

And it was with such thoughts that I sat down on the ground.

Running was no longer an option for me. It became quite clear to me after running for the past hour. All it did was waste my stamina.

Sure, it perhaps bought me some time.

But...

For what exactly? Delay my death? Reinforcements...?

What reinforcements?

There was no point in uselessly clinging to some hope that was perhaps never going to come. The only person I could rely on at the moment was myself.

To get out of here alive...

I had no one else but myself to rely on.

lightsΝοvεl ƈοm

"Hoooo..."

I took a deep breath and extended my hand forward.

A familiar warmth coursed down from my abdominal area as a magic circle started to form.

'.....Please work.'

This was my only hope.

***

"Where am I.....?"

Leon looked around him and frowned.

He appeared to be around a dense forest. Where exactly... he wasn't sure. He had no time to make sure. Looking around, he called out.

"Young Master?"

But he received no response.

As expected...

He was alone.

Leon's expression turned grim at the thought. It wasn't that he was worried about Julien. He was unsure of the depth of his strength.

Was he stronger or weaker than him?

.....Leon wasn't exactly sure.

But he had no time to ponder over this matter any longer. Sensing something, his expression changed and he lightly stomped his foot on the ground, pushing himself back.

BANG--!

Just as his body moved, the spot which he had been standing on just moments prior, exploded.

Pieces of debris flew in the air as a cloud of dust rose in the air, masking Leon's sight.

"Tsk."

A rough voice echoed shortly after.

As the cloud cleared, a hulking figure draped in a large black hood emerged, casually holding an axe over their shoulder.

"...You're a lot more slippery than I thought."

He began to say, the air trembling at the tone of his voice.

Leon's eyes narrowed as he slowly unsheathed the sword from his hips.

SHIIIIIING--!

He looked around before saying,

"Where is this? And who are you?"

Rather than answering, the hooded figure massaged its chin.

"I was told you were different. As expected... You really are different. I didn't think you'd be this composed in this situation."

"...."

Leon remained silent.

He was carefully scoping out his surroundings. Areas where he could escape in case he couldn't handle his opponent, advantages he could use, and so on...

Nothing escaped his sight.

"I see what you're trying to do."

Almost faintly, Leon caught what appeared to be a smile under the hood.

"Commendable. Observing your surroundings to increase your advantages. Finding escape points in case you're at a disadvantage... I can see what you're trying to do. But..."

BANG--!

Stomping his foot on the ground, the hooded figure disappeared from his spot, reappearing right in front of Leon in less than a second.

Axe held with both hands, he whispered.

"Just like the other guy... There's no escape for the two of you..."

Swooosh--

And he swung down.

***

How long has it been...?

One hour? Two hours? Three hours? A day?

I had lost track of time.

I hadn't moved the entire time and kept my focus entirely on the magic circle in front of me.

But...

One rune.

Two runes.

Three runes...

.

.

.

Eight runes...

Nine runes...

Ten runes...

Eleven runes...

Tzzzz--!

"Kh...!"

I still...

Couldn't...

Make...

Any...

Progress.

Even after all this time!!

After doing everything that I possibly could...!

"Shit... Why?! Why...!"

Was I just being too hasty? Was that it...?

'From what I was told, simply learning to be able to use a spell shouldn't take more than a few hours...'

So long as one was adept at it, they could learn it.

It was what I had learned in the two weeks I had been in this world.

So...?

Tzzzz--!

"Why...?"

Why was it that I still couldn't learn it?

Did I need more time?

But I didn't have time.

This was the only thing I could do. My other power couldn't be used to fight the person in the vision.

There was nothing else I could do.

This was my only option.

"H-haaa..."

My breath betrayed my exasperation as I blankly stared at the night sky.

Was this my limit...?

No, if I only had more time.

Then... Then...

"Kh..."lightsnovel

I quietly called out for my status screen.

A large window appeared in my vision.

﹂ Type : Elemental [Curse]

Why...

Why was it that I was able to grasp Emotive Magic so easily, and yet struggled to understand this magic?

Was it because of my ability?

...Or was it because I wasn't truly capable of understanding this magic?

Yet again, I was reminded of one fact.

I didn't belong to the world.

"Right... I'm just an existence that casually entered this place."

The reason why I was struggling so much...

Why it was so hard for me to learn...

It had nothing to do with talent.

I...

Was simply, not meant to have learned it.

This world...

I smiled bitterly.

"...It's rejecting me."

Haha.

It was a laughable thought.

But...

Even if the world was rejecting me.

I had no choice but to continue.

"...Again."

I stared at my hand and channeled the mana from my abdomen.

A familiar warmth flooded my body.

One rune...

Two runes...

Three runes...

Five runes...

.

.

.

.

Tzzzz--!

I tasted failure.

Over.

And over.

And over again.

Drip... Drip...

Blood continuously dripped down from my nose as my eyes grew blurry.

I was getting tired.

Tired of the meaningless practice that held no progress.

It had stopped at eleven runes.

There was just one rune that I was missing before the magic circle would complete.

But...

Tzzzz--!

That step seemed an impossible one.

It slowly started to sink in my mind.

'....This is meaningless.'

"Right..."

Tzzzz--!

"Why waste time..."

Tzzzz--!

"Practicing something..."

Tzzzz--!

"....That wields no progress?"

I finally lowered my hand and closed my eyes.

My mana reserves were almost empty and exhaustion had taken over my body.

"In the end... I was just meaninglessly struggling."

Chasing after something I wasn't meant to achieve.

If I had more time then...

I'd have pursued things differently.

But I had run out of time.

"Cough...! Cough...!"

My hands stained with my blood as a familiar fire raged up in my lungs.

It became even clearer to me that my time was up.

And as if to further confirm this, the nearby greenery rustled.

Rustle--!

A hooded figure emerged from behind the bushes.

"So that's where you were. You really made it hard for me to find you. Thankfully, I was able to track you through your scent, or I really would've never been able to find you."

His poise.

His voice...

They were all similar to the one in the vision.

Finally, he stopped and stared at me.

"...Uh?"

A surprised sound escaped his lips as he stared at me.

"Would you look at that? I knew you were weak from your mana signature, but I didn't think you'd be this weak--"

"....Is that so?"

With what little energy I had left, my voice layered and I forced myself up, dashing away from the area.

"Hoho? Was that your emotive magic?"

The hooded's figure calm voice echoed from behind.

"Not bad... Not bad at all. My chest almost stung. Really... What an interesting power. It's a good thing I came prepared."

Rustle--

I ran through the forest, feeling the rough branches scrape against my skin.

The underbrush clawed at my legs, leaving stinging cuts all over.

But I paid them no mind.

One Rune...

Two Runes...

As I ran, I made sure to focus my attention on my hand.

The runes were slowly piling up.

Tzzzz--!

But even in such a situation, failure seemed inevitable.

I gritted my teeth and continued running.

The situation seemed hopeless.

My Emotive Magic seemed to not affect him. I couldn't comprehend the other magic, and I was on my last breath.

"Haaa... Haaa..."

At some point, my leg wobbled.

Crash...

And I fell face-first against the ground.

"Ukh...!"

I scraped the ground in an attempt to help myself up.

But..

Thud.

I couldn't get up.

Sweat poured down from the side of my face as my chest burned with even greater intensity than before.

My lungs were on fire.

"....Already tired?"

The hooded man appeared behind me, seemingly confused by my situation.

Just barely, I managed to turn my body to face him.

"I thought you'd struggle more, Black Star. I did. In the end, the rumors about you were exaggerated. You--"

At some point, his voice had drowned out from my mind.

My eyes wandered over my right forearm where a four-clover tattoo appeared.

There was still something...

I had been saving it up for this moment.

It was my last hope.

So...

I extended my hand and pressed on it.

Yet again.

I had no choice but to rely on this ability.

But...

Would the results really change...?