Back when the distance between Lorist and the old man was around 50 meters, the three guards that had stepped forward to intercept him, only to have their throats slashed open with only one stroke, allowing the old man to further close the distance to 30 meters. When the old man's body seemed to fuse with his sword, he closed the remaining distance in a flash with the after-images of his sword filling Lorist's line of vision.
Lorist expression changed immediately. At first, he wasn't too bothered by the appearance of that man. But the instant Lorist felt the pressure as heavy as a mountain emanate from that old man encompass him, Telesti and Reidy, Telesti fainted immediately with a pale look while Reidy fared slightly better and only spat out some blood and retreated three steps.
Lorist drew his sword and rushed forward after saying only, "Bring her away right now!"
Clang! The fearsome clash of the swords shook Lorist's eardrums as he was knocked roughly 10 meters away. He felt a sudden ominous feeling in his chest and staggered, almost falling directly to the ground.
Exhaling thoroughly, Lorist straightened his body and looked at the tall old man as he mused, "A Blademaster?"
That old man himself was stunned that Lorist was able to take one of his sure-kill blows, but that allowed Lorist some time to recover.
"A Blademaster, huh? Let me guess who you are..." Lorist said as he stared at the tall old man. "You can't be Duke Fisablen, a person of high status like him won't resort to underhanded measures like this to assassinate me, and neither does he have a need for that. If he wanted to crush me, he would simply lead his Frontier Legion here and settle it all on the battlefield. Blademaster Xanthi on the other hand is a woman and I've met her before. As for Viscount Kristoph who is a subordinate of Duke Fisablen, he shouldn't look as old as you do and he's also a knight who won't be willing to carry out a dirty assassination...
"Since there are only 5 Blademasters in the Iblia Kingdom, that leaves only the two serving the Second Prince. Since Louinse is already dead, you should be Blademaster Zarinan. Given the Second Prince's temperament, it's not surprising for him to send a Blademaster to dirty his hands with something like assassination. While the other kingdoms and duchies might have Blademasters as well, I doubt that they'd want to assassinate me given that I've no qualm with them. Am I right, Blademaster Zarinan?"
The guards not far away had already been alerted and Els was the first to rush over. But Lorist was worried as he knew that the guards that were at most at the Silver rank definitely wouldn't be a match for that old man. No matter how many guards showed up, they were only as threatening as a flock of chickens to the Blademaster who could kill them with a casual sweep.
Just as Els and a few other Silver ranked guards were about to rush towards the bold old man, Lorist barked his orders to stop them. "Get back! He's Blademaster Zarinan and you're not his match!"
While doing that, Lorist signaled for his subordinates to seek out Josk so that he could pressure the Blademaster with ranged attacks. Even though Josk was only at the Gold rank, his archery skills would still be able to pose a threat to the old man. Otherwise, Lorist's subordinates could also mobilize the carroballistas which even a Blademaster would find hard to fend off en masse.
The observant Els understood Lorist's intentions right away and shouted for his men to stop. As he retreated, he instructed his men to put Lorist's plan into action. Relieved, Lorist inspected his surroundings and saw that Howard had already led his sister Alisa and the other children away from the stream near the hill and was on the way to the Tortoise Hill army camp using a detour. Reidy on the other hand had two maidservants take care of Telesti and sent them away from the zone of conflict using a carriage.
"It is not my wish to cause unnecessary deaths. It was wise of you to stop your men from giving their lives needlessly. Your guess was right, I am Zarinan and I have come on my king's orders to claim your head for him," said the old man all of a sudden as he took big steps in Lorist's direction.
"Is that so? Then let's see if you are able to take my head with you," Lorist said with a cold smile. With both his hands gripping his sword, he had already made his preparations to engage.
"I really didn't expect that you were able to receive my sure-kill blow. It seems that your defeat of my king wasn't a fluke. However, it's a shame. If you won't serve my king, then you shall die!" Jerking his body forward, Zarinan held his sword high. Countless illusory lightning bolts seemed to materialize around his sword and enveloped Lorist from all directions.
While Lorist sounded relaxed before, he wore an incredibly solemn expression. WIth his two hands grasping his sword and ready to guard his body, he proceeded to flick, wipe, parry, block, slash, drag, stab, obstruct, withdraw, sweep, hack and pierce, using the simplest basic sword movements to defend against the torrent of rapid sword strikes of Blademaster Zarinan.
Clangclangclangclangclang... The swords clashed so often that it almost sounded like it was metal was raining heavily from the sky.
From Lorist's dynamic vision, the sword strikes seemed like countless bolts of lightning that increased in intensity with each following wave. At that moment, Lorist seemed to have turned into a reef amidst the roaring sea, almost being submerged completely by the incessant waves.
Compared to Blademaster Xanthi's light and agile attacks, Blademaster Zarinan's sword strikes were both vigorous and heavy despite being as fluid and quick as Blademaster Xanthi's rapid attacks. Lorist only had one word within his mind at that moment: despair. It was as if he was thrust into a world of unlimited blade storms that barraged him with one strike after another nonstop. During that long and grueling time, Lorist could only painstakingly defend.
"Break!" Lorist suddenly roared as he knocked himself and the Blademaster apart. After making some distance quickly, Lorist struggled to stand with a pale, white look on his face and some blood in his mouth. The silver wire mesh armor he wore had a long strike across it that revealed his bloodied black undershirt within.
It was then when Lorist recalled the words of the princess. She said that while Lorist did defeat Blademaster Xanthi, her teacher and godmother, he definitely wasn't a match for her grandfather and wouldn't be able to survive more than 100 strikes from him. Duke Fisablen was a rank 3 Blademaster while Xanthi was only a rank 2. As for Blademaster Zarinan, he was a rank 3 Blademaster just like the duke.
Gosh, the gap between rank 2 and rank 3 Blademasters is really too wide! Even though I was able to keep up with Blademaster Xanthi, I have almost no chance to retaliate against Blademaster Zarinan and was busy defending for my life! When Lorist thought that he had discovered a weakness in the old man's strikes, he decided to land one strike in himself to force the old man backwards, only to discover that the opening had vanished and that he had fell into that old man's trap. Had Lorist not reacted quickly enough to parry with his sword and retreat with all his might, his body might've already been cut in half.
Lorist smiled bitterly and thought, today will definitely be tough... I can only circle around that old man from a distance for now and hope that the carroballista brigade arrives quickly...
"Brilliant swordsmanship! Your moves are not bad and it is definitely hard to imagine that someone at your age is able to fight with such astounding skill. If my master was still alive, he definitely would've taken you as his disciple and spent all his effort cultivating your talent. Perhaps, you might even become a Sword Saint some tens of years later. But it's a shame that you've chosen to go against my king. You will definitely die today!" Zarinan exclaimed before he rushed forward with his sword again.
Lorist retreated one step after another and noticed that the stream was already behind him and there was no way to run. WIth a flash of inspiration, Lorist leaped into the stream directly.
When Zarinan reached the stream, he found that Lorist was already on the opposite bank on the other side of the stream five meters away.
"If you let me kill you obediently, I will make sure that you don't suffer any pain. There's no point in running away since I'll definitely get to you," said the old man as he shook his head, as if he thought that Lorist's final death struggle was irrational and unsightly.
"Oh, is that so, old man? Well why don't you come over here and try then? Even if I were to die, I will make sure to take a nice bite out of you. Don't forget that you couldn't do anything to me either just now, so it's still unclear who will win. Let's see who'll be the victor in the end," Lorist said as he gritted his teeth.
Blademaster Zarinan did not say anything and leaped before landing lightly on a rock that was 3 meters away from Lorist.
With a grunt, Lorist kicked his right leg out and sent some internal energy-infused stones and cobblestones on the bank propelling towards the Blademaster. Right after that, he jumped forward to take the offensive since he wasn't able to do much by defending. At worst, he would take the Blademaster down with him even if it cost him his life.
Zarinan didn't expect that Lorist had that move up his sleeves. While his face was covered by the dust and grime Lorist kicked off, he managed to block half of the stones that were infused with internal energy. But those that he didn't get to deflect hit his body and tore his clothes apart, causing him to feel immense pain. That was especially the case with the few cobblestones that brushed by the old man's face, causing two long, bloody scratches to form.
Without waiting for Zarinan to react, Lorist pounced forward like a tiger and attacked without bothering to defend. His sword strikes seemed to overturn the Milky Way itself as they shot forward unimpeded. It was a double-edged sword style that harmed both him and his opponent, causing the old man to struggle haggardly.
Clangclangclangclangclang... The swords collided with each other rapidly once again.
"Ugh..." It was already Lorist's third time being struck flying and this time, he didn't remain standing and instead crashed right onto the bank of the stream, dyeing the water of the stream red with his blood.
Zarinan on the other hand retreated a few steps back. He wasn't in the best condition as his left arm and right leg both bore wounds from which blood spurted out. But worst was his left cheek which was a complete, bloody mess. Even half his ear was shaved completely off.
After trying hard to stand back up straight, Zarinan felt up his injury on the left part of his face and said in a venomous tone, "Good, good... Nobody has managed to wound me in the past 20 years... I really didn't think that you would able to hurt me for real. Anything that can go wrong truly will go wrong... Kid, I bet you can't move now, right? When I get you, I will definitely make you regret that you were born. I will deal with you ever so slowly that you will cry for mercy to have your life ended in one swift blow..."
Lorist struggled on the ground for a few moments before finally getting up, half-kneeling. His body was covered completely in slash wounds, some of which revealed even the whites of his bones with the blood washed off by the stream water.
"Kill!" A Silver ranked guard with only the thought of saving his lord charged forward with a silver blade glow emanating from his sword. The old man lightly waved his sword and the head of the Silver ranked guard landed into the stream, further coloring the water red with blood.
However, ten other guards rushed forward after the first was killed. These guards had been making their way forward when Lorist was busy attacking Zarinan and they planned to overwhelm the Blademaster with numbers without regard for their own lives. Despite that, within a few moments, around 40 of the guards landed straight into the stream, turning the stream into a bloody river.
These self-sacrificing guards of the family only managed to buy another ten minutes, during which Lorist recovered some energy and managed to stand up. However, it pained Lorist to witness the deaths of those guards. Silver and Iron ranked alike, they all rushed towards Blademaster Zarinan. That was not bravery. It was suicide. Of the company of 100 guards Lorist brought along with him, half of them had already died from Zarinan's blade.
Further off in the distance, an alert horn signal could be heard blowing at the army camp near Tortoise Hill and the regiment of soldiers would be able to arrive within another 30 minutes. But that was time Lorist didn't have.
"Release!" Els commanded loudly. Tens of arrows and crossbow bolts headed in Zarinan's direction as well as a few other thrown axes and javelins.
Unfortunately, Lorist's guard unit wasn't the longbowman unit and they only brought with them a few hunting bows and crossbows that didn't shoot far, failing to effectively suppress Zarinan completely.
Standing on top of a corpse of one of the guards that attacked him at the stream, he deflected the various projectiles headed his way easily with a few waves of his sword as he laughed eerily and said, "Hehe, your family soldiers are rather loyal. Since that's the case, I'll kill them off first before I deal with you..."
Els and the rest were only around 50 meters away from Zarinan and that old man would only take ten minutes to kill off the whole group. By the time the reinforcements coming from afar arrive, Zarinan would've long captured Lorist and fled.
Lorist stood up straight with all his ability and thought, no... I can't let that old man kill Els and the others. I'm already heavily injured and I doubt that I can deal with that crazy old man... Better think of another way, quick.
Looking back at the forest behind him, Lorist feigned laughter and said, "Kill them nice and slow, okay? I'll take my leave first."
Using all the energy he could muster, Lorist rushed straight into the ancient forest behind him.
Zarinan turned back and cursed. Killing those guards was only a small matter to him, but if he were to let Lorist escape, that would pose to be a large problem. If word got out that a rank 3 Blademaster let an Iron ranked dominion lord escape, then what pride or face would he have left? Additionally, this was his first assassination attempt and if Lorist really did manage to get away, Zarinan definitely wouldn't get a second chance at killing him. It was obvious that Lorist would increase his defenses so that the old man would never be able to get near him again. If Lorist chose to mobilize 3000 fully-equipped veteran soldiers to get back at Zarinan, he would have to run and hide for his life even if he was a Blademaster.
Zarinan hurriedly changed his direction and charged like a ghost within a blink of an eye into the forest Lorist had escaped into.
Seeing the old man enter the forest, Els and the other guards slumped to the ground. Despite facing a Blademaster, one that had massacred half their unit at that, the fact that they were able to continue to launch ranged attacks was already an amazing feat. Half of their bravery had come from their long and arduous training to instinctively follow orders while the other half stemmed from the depths of their beliefs that they had to save Lorist no matter what even at the cost of their lives.
After tens of minutes, the carroballista brigade arrived rather late along with Josk, Potterfang and more soldiers.
Reidy hurriedly jumped onto one of the carroballistas and cut off the support of the steel ballista, before planting his sword on the chariot's floor and taking three ballista bolts with him before he rushed straight into the forest.
With a flash in his eyes, Els said, "That's right. Take the steel ballistas off and form small teams of 3 ballistas each before following them into the forest..."
Josk dismounted and tugged on Els harshly before asking, "Where's milord?!"
Els pointed at the forests and said, "Milord has lured that old assassin there. That old man Zarinan is actually a Blademaster and I think he was sent here by the Second Prince. Quick, go look for milord! He seems to be badly injured..."
Josk mounted swiftly and spurred his horse forward as he said, "Depart!", before charging into the forest with his mounted archer brigade without the slightest hesitation...