Enjoy this week's first release!
This was already the best Blademaster Xanthi's could do. Ever since she broke through to become a rank 3 blademaster a year ago, she had never executed a move she felt was so perfect it was her ultimate move. It was swift and ephemeral, yet bright like the stars. Seeing Lorist just about to be enveloped by the sword flashes in his surroundings, Xanthi's lips curved into a smile.
Do you still think I'm that rank 2 blademaster from a few years ago? Hmph, I'll show you this isn't that soldier-surrounded duke's mansion where you acted so haughty. I won't go easy on you this time. You will learn your lesson today, Locke, my boy. Let's see whether you still dare to trick my beloved Sylvia after this... You and the sweet words with which you misled her... I'll only spare you when you kneel before my duke and sign countless treaties of surrender...
Though she already had it all planned out, her confidence was shattered by three strikes from Lorist's longsword.
Clang clang clang! The sound of clashing metal exploded from the swords' contact point. The starlight-filled surroundings vanished. Not only did the longsword Lorist casually waved accurately parry the three killing blows hidden in the starlight, the counterforce from those parries even forced Xanthi backwards in an arc across the sky. She couldn't launch any more attacks.
"Left shoulder, right torso, and right chest? Oh, and my thigh," Lorist mused as he easily deduced the targets of Xanthi's strikes with a drunk smile, "We haven't met for a few years now, have we? And to think you've become a rank 3 blademaster... It's too bad while your force did increase, your swordsmanship didn't improve at all. You're still going about it with the same approach. It seems you only broke through thanks to luck instead of some transformative realization."
Xanthi was flabbergasted.
"You... How could you take my attacks?"
"Take your attacks?" Lorist mused curiously, "Should it have been difficult? It wasn't to me, at least. I already know your sword style by heart. I can even fight you blind. Didn't you see it earlier? Stop overreacting to everything, sheesh."
While Lorist made it sound easy, Xanthi's face went pale.
"You're mocking me, aren't you?" she said gritting her teeth.
"If that's what you think, I can't change your mind. I was only speaking the truth."
"I'll show you!" cried Xanthi as she rushed over again.
It was too bad her frenzied attacks were completely ineffective. Lorist deflected every one of her strikes patiently and confidently as he commentated.
"Oh, this strike was insidious... You actually tried to pierce me there and end my family line? Well, you were just a little bit off. Hha, you weren't able to do it!"
"Whoa! You had that move as well? Heh, I blocked it anyway. Didn't I give you some pointers before? Mere speed is useless. You need accuracy as well."
"Only three of your ten strikes managed to connect. The other seven were only wasted effort. Why don't you understand something so simple at your level?"
Xanthi was so mad she almost coughed out blood.
How is he so shameless, to even mock me during our duel!
Lorist used the opening and put his sword to the side before he gave Xanthi a huge kick, sending her a few steps back before she kneeled on the ground and coughed up blood three times.
Despite having gotten in a cheap strike, Lorist didn't stop.
"Once one reaches the blademaster level, one shouldn't only pay attention to the sword in one's hand. One must forge oneself into a sword. This is the true essence of what it means to break through to the blademaster level, understand? The tricks you manage with the sword in your hand are limited at best. Considering your relationship with Sylvia, I'll spare you this time. You may scoot now."
Hack! Xanthi spat out another mouthful of blood before she stood up, her hair all messed up, and rubbed off the trace of blood on her mouth.
Raising her sword, she proclaimed, "You don't have to care about what Sylvia thinks. I won't let you be together with her. It was I who disturbed your date. I'll never let Sylvia become the woman of an adulterous, unambitious man! Kill me if you can!"
Lorist laughed bitterly.
"Oh please, old hag, it was Sylvia who the first move. When I accepted her feelings and wanted to give her a happy future, Duke Fisablen refused my request. In the end, you simply just don't take House Norton seriously, do you? Very well, I'll educate you right here and now before I settle the bills with House Fisablen after new year's. I'll have you guys kneel before me and beg me to wed Sylvia."
"Dream on!" cried Xanthi like a haggard woman.
She had none of the poise expected of a blademaster. She retreated into the formation of soldiers and pointed her sword at Lorist.
"Attack! Turn him into mincemeat!"
"Kill!" cried the soldiers.
Almost two thousand men rushed over with their weapons. It was a charge most rank 3 blademasters had to evade at all costs. Xanthi was not mistaken in her decision. Since her own power wasn't enough, she'd just swamp Lorist with numbers. Two thousand well-equipped men would grind even metal into dust.
While a few hundred won't be a threat to a blademaster, two thousand elite soldiers are more than enough to push you into a corner! I'll launch surprise attacks while hiding among them. Perhaps the scales of victory will tip in my favor.
Xanthi widened her eyes and followed Lorist's every movement. She would intercept him and push him back into the group the moment he backed off. She didn't expect Lorist's reaction.
Seeing the soldiers of the duchies run over, Lorist didn't tense up. He revealed a look of excitement, the look a predator would show when they spotted their prey.
"Come on!" yelled Lorist before he ran forward.
Whoosh! Before they even arrived, arrows flow over their heads straight for Lorist. The unit of about five hundred longbowmen had fired a volley, but they didn't expect Lorist would run forward. They had covered everywhere to whichhe could possibly dodge, but his charge rendered the whole volley useless.
He had already made it into the middle of the formation. Where his swords passed, heads rolled from shoulders and blood arced into the air. The sword flash covered a circle around him and carved out an empty space. His figure could hardly be seen as he moved about at breakneck speed. His sword moved so fast it almost seemed like he was carelessly 'spilling' sword light. Not one of the soldiers were able to see him clearly. All they could register in their vision was the sight of their comrades falling like felled timber one after another nonstop.
All of a sudden, he appeared at the rear of the formation and began his slaughter of the longbowmen and crossbowmen. When there was nobody left, he looked back and saw the trail of corpses he left in his wake.
Someone dropped his weapon with an audible thud. It was like a predetermined signal, everyone's morale left them at that moment.
"De-demon!" cried the soldiers before they discarded their weapons and ran around like ants who had lost their way. The only thought on their minds was to make it as far from Lorist as possible.
"Attack!" cried a group of men from the hill.
The second highness personally led his troops to join the fight. Lorist blurred and re-appeared in front of the dumbstruck Xanthi.
"Hehe, any other tricks left up your sleeve, my dear Blademaster Xanthi?"
Xanthi pierced out with her sword, but it didn't even tear Lorist's clothes.
"Just surrender. On Sylvia's behalf, I will grant you treatment befitting of a blademaster and captive. You have no choice left. Put down your sword," advised Lorist.
Upon mention of Sylvia, Xanthi snapped out of her stupor. Angered by Lorist's advice, she growled.
"I will definitely not let you humiliate me! I still have a choice. I can die here and Sylvia will know her adoptive mother was killed by you!"
Xanthi rushed forward with crazy fervor. She didn't even bother to use any of her skills. She focused solely on shoving her sword through Lorist's chest. She'd rather die than surrender to him.
Looks like there's no convincing her, thought Lorist, annoyed.
He had considered whether he should just off the hag already, but he wasn't sure how he should break it to Sylvia if he did. 'Honey, I cut your mother in eight,' didn't sound really pleasing to the ear.
The issue was that, while killing Xanthi was easy to say the least, capturing her alive and unharmed wasn't, especially with how she was acting now. Lorist might even get bitten, and he even believed a rank 3 blademaster like her would actually go through with it.
"Enough is enough."
Xanthi didn't respond, she just continued her charge.
"You're really asking for it," barked Lorist angrily as he twisted his sword to deflect the incoming strike.
He flipped his hand again and slap the flat of the blade against Xanthi's left cheek. With a soft crack, two of Xanthi's teeth fell out of her mouth.
"I'll show you--"
Before she could finish, Lorist angled his sword upward to block the strike and suddenly appeared directly in front of her. Shocked, she tried to duck, only to be the slightest bit too late to avoid the fist Lorist thrust at her abdomen.
"Oof!" growled she in pain as she curled up like a shrimp being cooked.
She was unable to wield her sword and clutched her stomach with both her hands, mouth open as if she was going to puke at any moment. Seeing her reaction, and not wanting to be puked on, Lorist gave her a kick and sent her flying.
Xanthi's body flew high in the air but landed not far away. She had vomited mid-air. Lorist had to duck to avoid the filth falling from the sky.
With a thud, she landed on a patch of stained, snowy ground, rolled for a while, and stopped in front of the second highness's mount. The moment the second highness saw her, he was so terrified of being attacked he instinctively raised his lance and placed it close to her throat.
But when she opened her eyes and saw who was in front of her, she instantly said, "Spare me, I surrender..." and fainted.
The second highness and Lorist, who had just rushed over, crossed gazes in an awkward moment. There was an unspoken tradition among the nobles that the person one surrendered to would be one's captor. Taking another's captive and victory was also considered a shameful practice.
The problem here was that Lorist was the one who defeated Xanthi, yet the second highness was the one she surrendered to. It made her the second highness's captive and Lorist didn't have any rights to deal with her.
The second highness wasn't faring any better either. He had wanted to welcome Lorist's arrival, but he didn't think Xanthi would pull something like that. As a noble and king, he had the obligation to ensure the safety of his captive. However, he was here to congratulate Lorist on defeating her instead of taking her captive. In some sense, the second highness had inadvertently stolen the fruit of Lorist's hard work.
The second highness's face flushed as he struggled to think of something appropriate to say. Manst, Ripleid, and Reidy arrived at that moment.
Lorist hurriedly said, "Congratulations, Your Majesty! This hag has been troubling me for so long, and to think she would surrender in fear when she saw you! Your Majesty's name truly strikes fear in the hearts of the enemy all over the continent!"
Thankfully, Lorist had said something quick to diffuse the awkward situation. He didn't feel like going through the trouble of thinking of what to do with Xanthi. He couldn't beat nor rebuke her, as she was Sylvia's adoptive mother. Not only would he have to show her fine hospitality, he couldn't even request a ransom for her release. Should Sylvia ever cry in front of him, he'd have to set Xanthi free respectfully and without complaint.
Since the hag hates me so much, I'll let the second highness deal with her. Let her suffer and learn from this experience. We'll see whether she dares to pull tricks like this again. You think you can worsen my relationship with the second highness like this? I won't fall for it, thought Lorist with glee.
"Your Majesty, Blademaster Xanthi is already a rank 3 blademaster. She fainted from sheer anger and isn't much wounded or in any danger. She'll recover with some rest. It would be best to give her some force-dispersing toxin as soon as possible to prevent her from doing anything when she wakes up."
"There won't be a need for this, will there? She's a rank 3 blademaster. She should honor her word..." answered the second highness awkwardly.
"Your Majesty, she's a woman. No man alive can predict her next move. She's also a blademaster, she can easily find an excuse or derive a way to push her mistakes onto someone else and leave without worry. Just in case, it's better to take precautions," insisted Lorist.
The second highness thought about that snowy night when Xanthi slaughtered his army and killed so many of his nothing.
Nodding, he hurriedly ordered, "Ripleid, fetch the toxin."
"Understood, Your Majesty," answered Ripleid before he left for the camp.
"Teacher..." Reidy finally got a chance to speak with Lorist.
Lorist whacked Reidy on the back of the head.
"You little arrogant bastard... You think getting first place in the tournament is a big deal? Now you know there are so many people stronger than you, right? This time, you were lucky that His Majesty offered you protection until I arrived. If I didn't get news of your whereabouts, you might be a corpse already!"
Reidy understood teacher was rebuking him out of concern.
"I understand, teacher. Did you come alone?"
Lorist smiled and pointed at the slope he had skied down.
"I wasn't alone. I only had a head start."
Everyone turned and saw a row of people standing atop the slope. They were all equipped with the ski and rod equipment Lorist had used. They had massive backpacks on their backs as well that made them rather bulky. They slid down the hillside less elegantly than Lorist had.
"Your Grace! You shamelessly attacked first before we arrived! We wasted our time coming here!" protested Els as he breathed heavily from all the rushing.