Clang, clang, clang!
"Ugh!" cried the Blademaster as he fell from the tree.
That old guy didn't think that he would actually make his way to where Lorist was hiding. If he still had enough Battle Force, he would've been elated, but right now he deeply regretted his actions instead and felt that he shouldn't have wasted so much time and energy on the Norton Family soldiers, causing him to fall prey to this sudden surprise attack when he was at his most vulnerable.
Despite that, Blademaster Zarinan still managed to react at inhumanly quick reflexes. However, as he had used up his Battle Force, he only managed to deflect three of Lorist's sword strikes before he revealed an opening for the fourth which left a wound on his left chest. The old Blademaster's rich battle experience dictated him to fall off the tree without resisting to avoid having his chest pierced through completely. Otherwise, he would've been nailed to the tree by Lorist's sword.
Thud! Blademaster Zarinan smashed flat onto the ground by the tree.
"Ack!" The old Blademaster coughed out a mouthful of blood and he looked incredibly bloody, especially since his left chest had been pierced quite deeply. Even though he had removed the shaft of the arrow that had planted itself on his back, the arrowhead was still within his body and the fall just now caused the arrowhead to burrow itself even deeper, sending waves of pain that caused the Blademaster to grit his teeth hard.
Raising his head, Blademaster Zarinan stared at Lorist who was still on top of the tree with a sharp gaze and said, "Kid, so you were hiding here and even know an ambushing trick or two... But as long as I don't die, I will definitely get my payback from you..."
Lorist was also breathing raggedly while he clutched the tree trunk and leaned his body on it. The attacks he launched just now had tugged onto his wounds and caused him to sweat profusely from the pain. Seeing Blademaster Zarinan below the tree, Lorist's mind filled with rage as he said the following with a cold, icy tone filled with killing intent, "You think you'll get away alive? Dream on! You will die today no matter what. Come haunt me as a ghost if you want your payback so much..."
Darn it all. All the way from Morante City to the Northlands, I've never suffered anything as bad as this! My injuries aside, the family forces also got so many casualties, Lorist thought as he recalled the corpses of the hundreds of soldiers who sacrificed themselves littered all over the stream, causing anger to flare in his mind once again. Given that the Blademaster was at the brink of death, Lorist felt that it was time for him to end it right that instant.
Just as he was about to leap downwards from the tree, the sounds of Norton soldiers searching the forest could be heard in the distance, causing Blademaster Zarinan who was on the ground to quickly roll and crawl away from Lorist's leaping range. After standing back up, he said coldly, "I'll spare you for now, kid... Catch you later..."
After saying that, he stumbled his way deeper into the forest and tried desperately to make his way out regardless of the thorny shrubs that nicked away at his skin.
"Good Sol! Aren't you a fucking Blademaster?! You're even willing to ditch your pride to escape?!" shouted Lorist from the top of the tree.
But Blademaster Zarinan didn't pay him any regard and continued to make his way forward while shielding his head.
Having no other choice, Lorist jumped down from the tree and rushed towards the Blademaster, ignoring his injuries. If he had waited for his soldiers to come first, it might allow the Blademaster to escape. He figured that it was best if he ended the Blademaster while he could lest his family suffers even more harm later on. The old Blademaster had to die!
After tens of minutes, Reidy came over with tens of other guards who brought along with them four steel ballistas. Apart from Reidy, who was blessed with extraordinary strength that allowed him to carry one ballista by himself, the rest of the guards had to carry each ballista with one person holding the front and another at the back, with the third ready to load and fire at a moment's notice.
It didn't take long for the guards to identify the footprints and blood trail left on the ground and a few of them climbed up the tree to find the wire mesh armor Lorist discarded, a few scraps of cloth and a silver medicine box that was completely empty.
"Milord is still fine," Reidy said, glad and reassured. "This silver box is the one our lord carries around in his hidden pouch for use in emergencies. It seems that he has managed to treat some of his wounds. Let's continue our search and see if we can find any more clues."
"Over here. There are tracks here left by two people who passed through not long ago." Without delay, one of the guards who used to be a hunter found the trail left behind by the two. "Look, cloth scraps of different types can be found on the twigs. It seems that they've passed through the shrubs and are headed in the direction of the wildlands..."
"One of you shall inform Sir Els about this. The rest shall go along with me to follow the trail," Reidy decided.
The sky was darkening gradually and Lorist didn't know how long he had been chasing behind the Blademaster's nor how many mounds or streams they passed through. His chest felt as if it was on fire as he struggled to take in one breath after another. The Blademaster in front of him also began to slow down and was only barely stumbling forward.
"Old... Old man... Did you freaking... Dope yourself with some kind of drug? You're... you're still able to run so far..." Lorist muttered as he struggled to keep up.
Not far away from him, a stream could be seen. Blademaster Zarinan rushed towards it immediately and dipped his head right inside, anxiously taking in one mouthful of fresh water after another.
Lorist also followed suit and stopped at the bank around 10 meters away from the Blademaster and began drinking away. The cool and refreshing water seemed to put out the burning feeling within his chest. After filling himself up with all the water he needed, Lorist looked at the Blademaster and cackled as he said, "Run, old guy... Continue running. Aren't you supposed to be good at that?"
Even though Zarinan wanted to get up, he found that he had not a single shred of energy left. After trying for a few times, he realized that he wasn't able to move and said, "Ki-kid... Don't be so full of yourself... I... I bet you can't move anymore either... J-just wait until I recover some Battle Force... I'll sh-show you..."
Lorist tried hard to sit straight and thrust his sword into the ground to stabilize himself before saying, "Alright. then let's see wh-who's able to recover faster... and who will be the fi-first to die..."
Blademaster Zarinan stopped talking altogether as if he wanted to save the slightest bit of energy that the act would cost him. And so, the area around the stream returned to its former tranquility.
Lorist also stopped talking as he had already begun to calm his breathing so that he may recover his energy sooner.
Time ticked by slowly and after a few moments, Lorist stood up and retrieved the sword he thrust into the ground before heading towards the Blademaster who laid sprawling by the bank of the stream.
When he was around 6 meters away from his nemesis, just as he was about to rush in, Lorist's expression changed suddenly and he began to retreat cautiously.
A gigantic, beige-colored python could be seen within the stream, slowly swimming towards Blademaster Zarinan.
Seeing Zarinan in front of it, the python prepared itself to land a savage bite. Perhaps, it considered Zarinan as a free meal that the heavens had gifted it with; an unmoving prey, just like a sheep with its legs broken so that couldn't escape and could only be swallowed whole while still conscious...
A gold flash of blade glow flared, after which the python's head got split into countless pieces. Blademaster Zarinan had already stood up. As his glowing sword cut the gigantic python into shreds, the blood spurting from its body colored the whole Blademaster blood-red.
At that moment, Blademaster Zarinan was incredibly frantic as the Battle Force he had spent so long to save up had been wasted on the gigantic python. He had originally intended to give Lorist a surprise attack the moment they were close enough.
But Lorist had already leaped forward. After seeing the old man having enough energy to cut the gigantic python apart, he understood that his energy recovered at a rate slower than that of the old Blademaster's. Had it not been for the 'brave' python that sacrificed itself, Lorist might really have fallen into the Blademaster's trap. But since the latter's Battle Force had obviously been used up on the python, Lorist hesitated no more.
The crescendo of clashing swords built up slowly once again. But this time around. the one who was knocked flying was Blademaster Zarinan. While the two extra shallow cuts he got wasn't of much consequence, he was sent flying by Lorist's vicious kick and landed on the ground before curling up like a cooked, red lobster while coughing out blood nonstop.
Lorist held his sword with both hands and propped himself up with it as to not fall down. The previous flurry of attacks had completely burned him out and it was already fortunate that he didn't collapse right away. With sweat flowing all over his body carrying traces of blood and a few reopened wounds, searing pain began to assail Lorist's senses.
Blademaster Zarinan struggled to get up before making his way towards the forest in the distance at a staggeringly slow pace while coughing out blood. Lorist was already using the last remnants of his energy to control his breathing; he couldn't even move a single finger and could only look at the figure of the old man fade into the forest.
By the time Lorist recovered enough to move, he followed the blood trail into the forest. The sky had completely darkened by then and the growls of beasts could be heard not far away. What Lorist had to do now was not to find the Blademaster, but rather to find a spot for himself to spend the night safely.
He eventually encountered a large tree and climbed up on it. The tree trunk was so thick that would require more than 10 people linking hands to be able to circle it completely, and that was just what Lorist needed. Knocking onto the surface of the trunk with the hilt of his sword, he heard an echo which indicated that the insides of the trunk was almost hollow. Infusing some internal energy into his sword, Lorist pierced it into the tree and cut out an oval shape with his other hand clutching the bark before pulling it apart, revealing an empty hole within.
This was one of the survival skills Lorist learned back in the days he worked as a mercenary in Morante City. Usually, trees of that size would have holes of differing sizes within which could be used as a temporary shelter. The hole within that tree wasn't too big, but it was just enough to fit Lorist within. After climbing inside, he made two breathing holes on the bark piece he was holding before carefully closing it back and blocking the makeshift door with his sword. That way, the bark door wouldn't fall outside the tree to the ground.
Within the darkness, Lorist felt deathly tired. But he understood that there was no way that Blademaster Zarinan would lose his life in the forest that easily. He knew that he had to end the old man's life once and for all when he was at his weakest. After I take care of the Blademaster, I will definitely go to the Second Prince and to give him my 'thanks'...
Lorist then sat down cross-legged to begin activating the Aquametal Technique by circulating his internal energy despite the pain it caused him. Only by doing that could he recover enough strength and internal energy by dawn to seek out the Blademaster.
The forest at night was a rather noisy place with roars and growls of beasts all over. Sounds of knocking and scratching could frequently be heard from beyond the tree bark door. However, the spot Lorist found was rather special as it was above the 1.5-meter mark of the tree trunk. While that was not an obstacle at all to humans, it was definitely inaccessible to four-legged magical beasts.
When Lorist saw the sunlight seeping through the seams at the entrance of the hole, he knew that dawn had come. After a night of circulating his energy, the internal energy in his dantian had recovered up to a third of its full capacity. Feeling assured that he felt no presences outside, Lorist pushed away the bark door and made his way out of the hole.
I definitely have to find that old Blademaster and kill him today, Lorist pledged to himself.
The beasts that crossed the forest during the night had long messed up the tracks the Blademaster left behind. Lorist could only use his senses and intuition to continue his search.
Meanwhile, Reidy looked at 4 dead guards while shaking his head in futility. During the night, they set up camp on top of a mound and were attacked by many magical beasts that came without pause. Even though they managed to fend them off in the end, they still suffered heavy casualties as a result.
Looking at the four remaining unharmed guards, Reidy said, "You guys, bring the injured and the dead back first. I will go look for milord myself. Don't worry, I grew up in the wilds and it's easier for me to travel alone. I will leave some tracks for you to follow when you're done."
Currently, Lorist had just found Blademaster Zarinan, who didn't make it far during the night. The old Blademaster had also hid atop a tree throughout the night, but he didn't crawl into a hollow one like Lorist did and instead climbed all the way to the top and cut off the tallest branch and carved a spot for himself to lay within.
The difference between his experience the night before and Lorist's was that he was continuously harassed by magical beasts. From time to time, magical pythons and different kinds of magical panthers would launch attacks on him, with many other carnivorous magical beasts waiting beneath the tree as they chewed away at the beast flesh chunks cut off by the Blademaster. That was why Lorist was so easily able to spot Blademaster Zarinan who was perched at the very top of the tree from rather far away.
As if he had a premonition, Blademaster Zarinan turned to look at Lorist from the distance. Even though he had been bothered by magical beasts throughout the night, given his abilities as a Blademaster, he had still managed to recover up to half of his Battle Force. Seeing Lorist appear before him even though he didn't explicitly conduct a search the Blademaster roared before he jumped from the tree he was on to the next tree in Lorist's direction.
Lorist quickly drew his sword and awaited the clash. Both of them understood that if they wanted to take each other's life, it had to be done on this very day. If they let each other go, there might be little to no chance for them to have another encounter in the future. Blademaster Zarinan only cared single-mindedly about bringing Lorist's head back with him because he wanted to release his frustration and humiliation from being injured by Lorist so badly and to fulfill the mission given to him by the Second Prince. Lorist on the other hand only wanted to kill the Blademaster for a simple reason: he had to avenge the hundreds of heroic soldiers who had sacrificed themselves, and what better time to do it than right now, when the Blademaster was gravely injured?
During this clash, the one who was forced to retreat backwards was Lorist. It was a shock to him that the Blademaster managed to regain so much vigor within only one night, as if the wound to his left chest and left arm, the hole in his right calf and the arrow wound on his back didn't affect him at all after he bandaged them up for a bit, forcing Lorist to struggle bitterly to defend.
"Good Sol, even though you're already almost 80, you cursed old man, how are you able to recover faster than me?" Lorist barked, not understanding what was happening.
"Hehe, kid, did you think that people call me a quasi-Sword Saint for nothing? I only need to take one more step to actually become a Sword Saint. To think that you would be so dumb to seek me out only to have your life ended here..." Zarinan said gleefully while he took one step forward after another.
"Graawr!" Behind Lorist, a Savage Magical Bear around 4 meters tall appeared and waved both its paws in a slashing motion towards Lorist.
Still able to retain his calm, Lorist quickly fell flat on the ground before kicking his legs and pushing himself backwards through the two hind legs of the upright-standing bear.
"Ugh, it stinks..." Having whoosh through the bottom of the magical bear, Lorist almost felt like vomiting from the stench. But right now, he couldn't be bothered to care about such things and pushed himself up from the ground with both his hands and sending his legs kicking against the bear's back, sending it stumbling forward towards Blademaster Zarinan.
The old man who was elated just before after seeing that Lorist was about to be crushed by the bear's paws was shocked to see the it coming in his direction. But as he was not as agile as Lorist, he was forced to deal with the bear first.
After expending lots of effort, the Blademaster cut the bear into pieces. But before he managed to catch his breath, he saw Lorist stare at him with a sly smile. Without saying anything else, Blademaster Zarinan turned to run immediately.
"Good Sol, is that what a quasi-Sword Saint should be doing?" Lorist complained as he began to give chase.
Now that he had a chance, Lorist immediately grasped it. As the old man's right leg was injured, it was hard for him to dodge and evade the bear, so he could only waste his Battle Force to take it down. Lorist believed that he only had to strike the old man from a distance before retreating repeatedly to take the old man down.
Even though the Blademaster only had one leg to give him the push, he was still able to move relatively fast and Lorist still wasn't able to catch up to him despite that. Thus they ran all the way to a cliff below which a jade-green river could be seen.
"Well, keep running! Oh, wait, you've made your way into a dead end, didn't you?!" Lorist said as he gasped for air after the tiring chase.
The old man was also breathing raggedly, but he revealed a ghastly smile and said, "Hehe, did you... really think I was trying to run?! This... this spot is a good one... Over here, you won't be able to circle me around... and strike me before shrinking back repeatedly... I finally found the ideal place after so much effort! Kid, this is where your life ends!"
Even before he finished, the old man sent himself flying towards Lorist.
This time around, their positions were reversed and Blademaster Zarinan was gradually forcing Lorist towards the edge of the cliff. In a few more steps, Lorist would fall all the way down to the river below.
"Hehe, kid, there's no doubt that this will be your end... I..." All of a sudden, the old Blademaster froze as his sword fell from his hand towards the ground. An iron ballista bolt had pierced through his stomach at that moment, leaving behind a large, gaping hole.
"Milord, milord..." Reidy cried as he hurriedly rushed forward to support Lorist who was about to collapse at any moment.
Letting out a breath of relief, Lorist slumped into Reidy's arms. Just as he was about to say something, his expression changed all of a sudden as Blademaster Zarinan whom he thought was dead jumped towards the both of them while crying out, "Let's all die together!"
Both the palms of the Blademaster struck Reidy's back, sending him flying towards the edge of the cliff with Lorist in his arms. In a desperate move, Lorist hurriedly raised his sword and pierced it through the old man's heart, but it was already too late as he was dragged down the cliff in Reidy's embrace...