"No wonder Saul always said you're the most likely to become a master swordsman in the Pan Continent." Miorich was out of breath. "I lost!" His helmet was nowhere to be seen, and his pale yellow leather armor was tattered. His left boot was torn and showed his toes, and the right boot was covered with dark red patches. What looked funny was his side that had been hit by Ernest's combat power; the armor had been broken and his red undergarments were showing. But his lance was gleaming, and it was clear that he had enough energy to keep going, if necessary.
"Had we sparred a few days earlier, you wouldn't have lost," Ernest said, smiling. He looked slightly better than Miorich. While Ernest did look like he had just got beaten up, Miorich looked like a soldier that had escaped from the Monster Cave.
"You're saying you had a breakthrough in the past several days?"
"I should have challenged you earlier then," Miorich said with remorse.
"I didn't know you were one to take advantage of others," Ernest pleasantly commented. When he was sparring with Anfey, Anfey imposed too many rules on him. Although he had been inspired by Anfey's moves, Ernest hadn't fought like this in ages. The pure and unmasked clash between combat powers was something he had long missed.
"I lost, I have nothing else to say." Miorich smiled. "But who doesn't want to be the winner?" His smile wasn't as sincere as before, instead mixed with a hint of sorrow, but Ernest failed to notice.
Just then, two men dressed in soldier uniforms rushed over. They were shocked to see the condition the two men were in. Within several hundred meters, all the trees around them lay flat on the ground, and the formerly uniform grassland was now filled with ridges. There were leaves scattered around, and dark soil was sprinkled everywhere, as if a dragon had just ripped the area apart. Miorich looked so beaten that the two soldiers did not recognize their own general for a second.
"What is it?" Miorich asked, turning around.
One of the soldiers jumped off of his horse and hurried to Miorich's side, whispering something. Miorich frowned, and suddenly his eyes darkened. "Alright, then. Go right ahead."
"Yes, General." The two soldiers nodded, got back onto their horses, and rode away.
"You're busy? I'll stop bothering you then," Ernest said, sheathing his sword. "Are you free later?" Today, Miorich had invited him to spar on a whim, and he accepted without thinking too much. Now, he realized that this was a fruitful journey, and he was looking forward to the next time he sparred with Miorich.
"There… probably won't be another time." Miorich sighed.
"What do you mean?"
"Ernest, where are you going? To Saul's place?" Miorich didn't answer Ernest. He instead asked Ernest a question.
"Where else can I go?" Ernest looked at Mioirich, confused.
"I would say that you should not go back there."
"And why is that?"
"Because Niya isn't there anymore." Miorich smiled. "Let me just tell you, I had an ulterior motive in asking you to come with me today."
Ernest wasn't stupid, but because of their friendship, he hadn't thought about it too much. Now that Miorich had admitted that he had another purpose and told him he should not return, Ernest's face dropped. "Keep going," he said.
"Sorry that I can't tell you everything, but what I can tell you is that Niya has safely escaped the city."
Ernest, hearing Miorich say "escaped," felt his heart sinking. He couldn't imagine why something like this had happened, nor how it had happened.
"Anfey is your student?" Miorich asked.
Ernest shook his head.
"He was good. He killed a mage, two senior swordsmen and… Zeda. Oh, I forgot. You don't know Zeda is, do you?"
Ernest was silent, but his eyes were growing colder.
"You do know Old Phillip though, right? Poor man. Maybe because the many people he killed didn't want to let him be in peace, be couldn't keep his son, who died in his twenties. Going through all that work to raise the grandson who was now killed by Anfey. Cursed, I say. Cursed," Miorich said mockingly.
"Old Phillip?" Ernest said, frowning. After hearing the name Phillip, he could not keep calm any longer.
"Who else?" Miorich paused before continuing, "This is why I ask that you do not return. Zeda was an idiot, but Phillip treasured him. If I got the news, Philip should have gotten it as well. Unless you can fight four master swordsmen at the same time, don't go. You might have heard Phillip was a man of temper, but in reality, he was even worse than the rumors."
Ernest took a deep breath. Of course he knew Phillip. The Maho Empire had two major pillars. One was the mages, controlled by Saul, and the other was the swordsmen, controlled by Phillip. Phillip had a major disagreement with Yolanthe years back, and he had retreated into his home, turning away any visitors. Even then, he still had his reputation, and no one wanted to mess with Phillip. What was more was that he had many students, including three master swordsmen, and more than twenty swordmasters. This was not something Ernest could handle by himself.
Phillip was older than Saul by a more than a decade, and so his students were older than Saul's students by a decade as well. This decade allowed Phillip's students to grow far beyond the reach of Saul's students.
Saul's four best students were only senior mages, serving in two different mercenary groups. This was standard. Many mages didn't want to waste their talents in court, instead trying to polish their skills on the battlefield, just like swordsmen and knights. If Saul and Phillip summoned their students, and the two sides began a feud… Ernest could not image how it would end, but he knew for sure it would be destructive.
"Whose idea was this?"
"Who else?" Miorich smiled bitterly.
"If you hadn't asked me to come, none of this would have happened," Ernest said. "Should I congratulate you on having an idiot of a master, or should I pity you? If Saul and Phillip break off good relations, the Maho Empire will soon follow."
"I am obeying an order," Miorich said mildly. "I didn't know His Highness would send Zeda. Of course, none of this matters now."
"Miorich, you've mistreated my respect for you. I'll be back," Ernest said coldly.
"One day, maybe. You will want to find Niya before Phillip does, though, so you won't be interested in me for a while." Miorich had a faint smile on his face. "Here, one last piece of news I will share with you—Niya left through the west gate."
Ernest glanced at Miorich one last time, but didn't say anything. He used his combat power and flew toward the west.
Meanwhile, Anfey's face fell. Anfey was mentally superior to most and good at masking his emotions, so anything that could make his face fall was something major.
Everyone was looking at him. Christian had just told him who Zeda was, including everything from his relation to the famous Phillip to his family structure. He didn't want to scare Anfey; he just wanted him to know what they had to face.
"You know why Niya was so obedient?" Riska asked. "Because she was scared."
Riska nodded firmly.
"All of you left without complaint because you were also scared?"
Christian and the others glanced at each other and lowered their gazes.
"I knew my leadership skills weren't that sharp," Anfey said, shaking his head, looking wryly amused.
"What should we do, then?" Riska asked.
"We run," Anfey said. "As far as we can." Anfey was worried. He didn't know where Ernest was, but he had thought that Ernest was powerful enough to save himself. Now that he looked at it, perhaps he had been too optimistic. Ernest, please do not go back!
"Troick was an idiot," Zubin said coldly. "He thought he could redeem himself by not siding with you. He is probably in pieces by now."
Anfey remembered. When he killed the guards, everyone was shocked, but they were truly terrified when he killed Zeda. Now he desperately wished that he could summon a doctor from Earth and preserve some of Zeda's DNA. Maybe Phillip wouldn't be as angry in the face of some great-grandchildren, but now they could only face the consequences head on.
"All of you must hate me now," Anfey said.
"You were too fast. We couldn't stop you." Christian shook his head. "Plus, Zeda was already… even if he had lived, Phillip would hunt us down anyway."
"I hated you once, but I remembered what Master Saul said, that we were family. We need to bond together in time of crisis," Riska said. "Plus, Maris targeted you. You acted in self-defense. Anfey, you were in the right."