But the glint dissipated as the black-robed shadow landed lightly on the ground 5 meters away from Lorist and Sylvia.
"Release Sylvia right this instant!" said the robed woman in her enraged, hoarse voice.
Lorist seemed serious, but unhurried, as he smiled and said, "I believe you'll be willing to release Knight Tabik and Knight Hennard now, right?"
The black-robed woman didn't hesitate as she turned to the stunned guards nearby and instructed, "You guys, bring those two Gold ranked knights over here and tell them that they're free to go."
"Yes, revered master," said the guards as they stared at Lorist who was holding the princess hostage before entering the manor hesitantly.
Lorist kept his sword and took a few steps back, releasing Princess Sylvia in the process.
Now that she was free, Sylvia wasn't flustered at all and instead turned to look curiously at Lorist.
The moment the black-robed woman saw that Lorist had released Sylvia, she immediately leaped to her side and as she did so, Lorist stepped back another four meters to ensure that there was at least 7 meters of distance between them.
"You truly have keen senses. However, aren't you afraid that I will turn back on my word now that you've released the princess?" asked the robed woman with a haughty tone.
Lorist shrugged casually and said, "I didn't have a choice. Senior, you are a Blademaster and the pressure you're applying on me is too much. Only by maintaining our distance can I be confident that I will be able to receive your blows. And if a Blademaster like you can't keep a promise, I can only blame my bad luck."
"Good..." The black-robed woman hugged Princess Sylvia in her bosom and said, "I will release the two Gold ranked knights. However, you will have to stay."
"No problem," Lorist replied. "I'm of the intention of sparring with you as well, senior..."
At that moment, Princess Sylvia regained clarity of mind and plucked her face from the robed woman chest and asked, "Um, Count Norton... What's your name?"
Even though there was a slight breach of etiquette on the princess's part, Lorist nevertheless responded. "Norton Lorist. Your Highness, my name is Norton Lorist."
The princess nodded and said, "Regardless of our status as nobles, as a swordswoman, I will definitely defeat you to wash myself of the humiliation I received."
Lorist broke out in laughter uncontrollably at the princess's childish temper that caused her to behave like a sore loser.
"Your Highness, you're a Gold ranked swordswoman. Do you really have to stoop that low for an Iron rank like myself?" Lorist asked.
"I don't believe that you're only Iron rank. You must be hiding your true abilities," Princess Sylvia retorted.
"You should note that I only used my skills without circulating the slightest ounce of Battle Force when I defeated your guards and caught you just now," Lorist said.
After hearing that, the princess gave it some thought and was shocked to realize that what Lorist said was completely true.
"Hehe..." snickered the black-robed woman. "Sylvia, he's merely misguiding you. While he did in fact not use any Battle Force, he's using some kind of energy that we are completely unfamiliar with. Even though this kind of energy is less noticeable than Battle Force, it is actually more explosive than it. As it is stored within the internals of his body, he can react and move much faster and more agilely than normal people. I bet it's also because of the mysterious energy that he's able to detect my hidden presence. You are definitely not his match right now. I will be testing his true strength shortly."
Lorist started letting out some cold sweat in awe of the Blademaster that had so quickly discerned the anomalies during his quick fight with the princess to the point that she was able to feel the internal energy flowing within his body. The acuity of her senses was far too frightening.
At that moment, Knight Hennard and Knight Tabik walked out of the manor and let out a look of joy the moment they set eyes on Lorist. However, they quickly discovered the black-robed woman and Princess Sylvia, causing their expressions to return to their former seriousness.
"Are you confident?" Knight Hennard asked.
"It's hard to say, I think I stand a 50 percent chance. You guys should leave first so that I will have one less thing to worry about and can fight more freely," Lorist said in a low voice.
"Do you need us to apply some pressure?"
"No need, just leave. Women are fickle and they change their minds for reasons men like us can never fathom. If you leave, even if I lose, you'll still be able to escape. But if you stay and I lose, this trip I made will have been in vain," Lorist whispered quickly.
"Alright, then we'll head out first. Be careful," Knight Hennard said with a nod and left with Knight Tabik without any hesitation.
"Hehe... You said that women are fickle?? I see that you have quite a peculiar view on us women. Since you said that, Lord Count, I suddenly feel like going back on my word. Since you're so confident, I'll chase them down once I apprehend you first..."
Even though Lorist said that in a very low volume, it was still audible to the black-robed woman.
As he concentrated all his attention, Lorist smiled and said, "Your reaction to that only serves to prove my point."
"Ugh..." The black-robed woman groaned, speechless at Lorist's statement. "Sylvia, stand back. Look closely at how I teach this bastard a lesson!" roared the woman in her hoarse voice.
"Okay. Godmother, please be careful..." Princess Sylvia said before she stepped to the side obediently.
All of a sudden, biting, cold flashes of the blade filled the area around them and the darkening sky seemed as though it had been sliced clean apart by a blade of light. Lorist was slightly stunned as he thought, so this is what happens when a Blademaster goes all out? It does cause me to feel a kind of despair and hopelessness of not being able to escape...
Biting his tongue and using the pain to snap himself out of his daze from gazing at the beautiful arcs traced by the Blademaster mid-air only to be faced with the countless blade strikes coming his way, Lorist said, "Here I go..."
Not only did he not retreat backwards, Lorist stepped forward into the storm of slashes, becoming one with his sword as he charged straight for the eye of the storm.
Loud clashes of swords could be heard nonstop. Sparks could be seen where Lorist's sword parried the slashes as his body occasionally shifted in and out of focus, leaving behind an afterimage or two. The Blademaster's posture was graceful as ever as she landed lightly on the ground while Lorist took a few steps back as he hurriedly parried another four blade attacks coming his way before regaining his stability.
"No wonder you're so arrogant. With swordsmanship like that, it's easy to see where your confidence came from," said the Blademaster calmly with not one trace of anger from before.
"You're quite formidable as well. I've finally experienced a Blademaster's strength for myself," Lorist said with a forehead full of sweat with a few sword cuts on his coat. Even though his body wasn't harmed in the slightest, the mere sight of the cuts on his clothes showed how dangerous that exchange had been. However, Lorist still wore a relaxed expression as he understood that while it would be difficult for him to defeat the Blademaster, escaping wouldn't be a problem at all.
Even though Lorist and his subordinates had killed two Blademasters before, it was the first time Lorist faced off against one in a melee. The case with Blademaster Louinse was merely a result of bad luck on the Blademaster's part. The other time was when Lorist first led the northbound convoy towards the Northlands and encountered the Sloph Slave Traders at the Lormo Duchy who were backed by a Blademaster. In the end, the Blademaster was wiped out during the conflict with the convoy along with the organization he tried to protect.
The moment that Blademaster whose name Lorist had already forgotten got off the ship, he was killed from the combined fire of the 400 plus crossbowmen and Lorist's 72 internal energy-infused javelins and didn't even get an opportunity to show off his sword skills.
Lorist has always kept the words of Blademaster Claude of the Dawn Academy close to his heart. 'A Blademaster's area of influence in which he can observe with perfect clarity was spread out like a plate. As long as one was within that area, the Blademaster would hold an advantage of over ten times. Fighting against a Blademaster was like placing a cup onto a plate. The cup will always be within the area of influence of the plate and be put under pressure. That's why the optimal way to defeat a Blademaster was to stay out of the plate and defeat him with ranged attacks.
And that was exactly what Lorist had done in the past. However, after experiencing a head-on fight with a Blademaster in close combat, Lorist truly understood the degree of their abilities. When compared to a Gold ranked swordsman, a Blademaster was completely in a different league. When Lorist fought against Gold ranked swordsmen, Lorist was able to gain the upper hand early in the duel and obtain victory quite easily. But when he fought Blademaster Xanthi just now, he was constantly at a disadvantage and preoccupied with defending like a turtle trying to withdraw into its shell.
Perhaps due to Blademaster Xanthi's gender and physique, she trained in a swordsmanship style that was quick and swift. Her sword strikes were fast as lightning and the constant streams of strikes gave off a feeling of invincibility. However, in terms of pure strength, Lorist felt that her strikes were on par with most Gold ranked knights. That's why they didn't pose any real threat to Lorist.
Despite that, Xanthi's strikes were truly too fast. If Lorist didn't have the aid of his natural gift of dynamic vision, he definitely wouldn't have been able to resist the torrent of blade glows like he did just now. The 'sense' of the Blademaster within her area of influence was nothing to scoff at and she reacted by changing the trajectory of her strike the moment the previous strike was parried to have it come from an unpredictable angle, forcing Lorist to fight defensively without being able to launch a counterattack.
If the Blademaster didn't knock herself and Lorist apart after her first torrent of attacks, Lorist probably would've been unable to continue resisting. As he was already sweating all over, he believed that the Blademaster was probably having a hard time as well, but he couldn't be sure as she was wearing a black robe that obscured her face.
Lorist subsequently widened his legs and got into a horse stance that seemed as stable as a mountain. With a serious gaze, he stared at the Blademaster and said, "Senior, if you may..."
"Heeaaargh! En garde!" shouted the Blademaster as she leaped forward. This time around, she used a different attack pattern and moved like a black butterfly, circling Lorist gracefully nonstop as she snuck in one swift strike after another.
On the other end, Lorist held his treasured sword with both hands tightly and blocked the incoming strikes in a seemingly slow fashion with the least possible movement. He was defending with all his might without the slightest intention to attack.
Loud clangs rang out once again as the swords clashed, but it was unlike the clear, crisp sounds from before and instead carried with them a low hum.
This torrent of strikes lasted shorter than the previous one as Blademaster Xanthi somersaulted backwards in the air. But when she landed, she seemed to stagger as if she didn't find a good footing.
"Gah, you..." mused the Blademaster in rage.
"Senior, if I don't return your strikes, it would be disrespectful of me! Here I come!" Lorist roared before he smiled and shifted his feet. His figure was approaching Blademaster Xanthi at breakneck speed with his sword slashing diagonally downwards.
At that moment, Lorist seemed to have transformed into a fierce general on the battlefield, cutting down two sword strikes at once with the sword not diverting from the original trajectory in the slightest. On the contrary, the Blademaster's wrist shivered as the stream of internal energy passed from Lorist's sword to hers, causing her to be unable to continue holding onto it. The sword slipped out of her hand and landed on the ground with Lorist's sword pointed at her chest.
What followed was complete silence. Nobody expected Lorist to defeat a Blademaster at all. Even Xanthi herself was unwilling to accept the result and merely continued to stare at the sword pointed towards her while shivering in fear.
"Thank you for going easy on me, senior," Lorist said before he sheathed his sword and turned to leave.
"Wait... Can you tell me what that energy within your body is called?" said Xanthi with her hoarse voice.
Lorist stopped for a bit before he said, "To be honest with you, I am indeed not training in Battle Force. I call the energy I use 'internal energy'."
"Internal energy? Energy brought out from within the body? What a fitting name. This style sounds similar to the training method used by the ancient martial monks of legend..." mused the Blademaster who no longer cared about the fact that she had lost to Lorist.
It was then when Lorist realized the presence of Reidy, Els, Patt and Josk within the manor. They had been observing his fight with Xanthi the whole time with Josk having drawn his bow in full alert.
"Don't say anything. Let's leave first and chat later," Lorist instructed in a low voice.
All of them complied and left quickly with Els even going out of his way to close the gates of the manor.
After walking several meters away from the manor, Lorist's body slumped weakly right onto Els, much to the others' shock.
"Don't panic, I'm not injured. Just tired. I already don't have enough energy to walk, so carry me back. Reidy, prepare some hot water for me to bathe in. I should recover after taking a long rest, so don't worry," Lorist said with the last of his breath.
Josk said, "Follow milord's orders and bring him back first. Look..."
Everyone lowered their heads to look at the footsteps Lorist left on the ground which were wet from all his sweat...
As a result of having gone all out, the internal part of Lorist's dantian had been deprived completely of all energy. The match that lasted a whole hour was one of the riskiest fights that Lorist had ever been in. If he didn't decide to end the fight by expending all his internal energy during the second clash to shake up Blademaster Xanthi's Battle Force, causing her to drop her sword and be unable to parry the next strike, he might have lost the battle in the end.
The main factor Lorist was able to win was his explosive use of internal energy to suppress the Battle Force of his opponent. By the time the Blademaster dropped her sword, Lorist no longer had an iota of internal energy that he could circulate and use, hence his brief departure from the manor without much of a word. With him being exhausted as he was, he would have collapsed right there on the spot if he had stayed any longer. It was fortunate that Josk and the others were there for him to carry him back while he was immobilized.