Book 3 Chapter 177

Gerd the Faithful

"You see that guy?--" Gerd was a little out of breath after taking on two opponents. "--He should be a gifted. Those people can double or even triple their strength. Don't mess with them."

Leguna's gaze followed Gerd's finger. The two quickly looked elsewhere for prey. Twenty minutes quickly passed. Though many of the fighters formed groups, they were only temporary. They stood a better chance to survive in them, but they had no qualms disbanding them once they were no longer convenient.

"Oi! That's my badge! Why did you take it?"

"The hell? You didn't put in any effort and now you want the badge?"

"Our agreement was to hand out the badges in turns! It's my turn!"

"Hmph, that only counts if you put in your share of the work!"

"Stop arguing! The match isn't over yet!"

"Shut up! This none of your business! We're not afraid of you just because you're the team leader for now!"

"I demand justice!"

The groups started falling apart about as quickly as they formed. Everywhere Leguna looked groups were fighting more with their own than against others. The loved this. Every time a group got heated they'd sneak in and rob them clean before running back to the outside of the arena and looking for their next target.

Risk grew with benefit, finding the optimal balance between the two -- maximizing benefit whilst minimizing risk -- was an art. Gerd didn't doubt his ability to go toe-to-toe with some of the stronger opponents, but he had to think of Leguna. The two thus kept to the outskirts of the arena and target only smaller groups. They picked off the stragglers and the teams already in heated fighting and injured or tired therefrom.

Gerd's style was mostly defensive, but he still got quite decent results. The two had nine badges so far -- Gerd five, Leguna four. It wasn't nearly enough for the two to advance, but it was good enough for now. The hauls would become greater with each kill as the match wore on, and there was no point to losing a bet by risking too much. It didn't matter if one had a million badges, if you weren't still standing at the end, you were out.

Unfortunately some weren't content with letting the two go on like this.

"So you were here all along. I wondered why I couldn't see you," Vincent hissed.

Three of his companions were still in the fight and stood with him. They had yet to fight amongst themselves and stood behind Vincent like good little followers.

"Just let it go. If you take our Ley, Kurdak will beat you to a pulp," Gerd countered.

"So I shouldn't piss him off?--" Vincent's laughed furiously. '--So you don't care that he pissed me off?"

Gerd stared at the venomous man. How was he that small minded?

"That aside, you still have to think about me. I promised Kurdak I'd look after Ley. You really want to make me break it?"

"Hmph! You keeping or breaking a promise has nothing to do with me! This is your last chance. Leave and I won't bother you. Stay, and I'll take you out as well!"

Gerd looked at Leguna with a comforting gaze.

"I stay."

Leguna was touched. He opened his mouth to say something, but Gahrona stopped him.

{This is too strange. Gerd is a decent guy, but he's going too far for someone who hardly knows you. Remember his training center? It's pretty decent, but not luxurious. He's a mid-order warrior, so why'd he settle for being an instructor for such a place? None of this makes sense.}

{Is he plotting something? But for what?}

{How would I know? Things haven't gotten out of hand yet. Neither of you are injured and Vincent don't look too good. If Vincent is the leader, he must be the strongest, so the other three can't bring any surprises. Even so, Gerd's just barely stronger than Vincent, he can't think you're strong enough to take on those three. That said, he should be able to handle this with some effort. Just keep an eye on things for now.}

{But...} Leguna hesitated, {Even if Gerd wins, he'll be badly hurt.}

{I'm sure he's thought of that. He isn't a fool or blindly loyal, so he should be pretty confident if he's chosen to stay. His warmth towards you is unnatural. Keep your guard up.}

{Alright,} Leguna agreed unwillingly. He felt sorry for Gerd, but, since Gahrona had spoken, he didn't dare intervene. She cared most for him, after all.

"Think of a way to hold Vincent back. I'll deal with the other three," Gerd said in a low voice, "Hold on for a bit and I'll come to help you once I deal with those three!"

"I..." Leguna's words faded as Gerd rushed forward.

Gerd had 14 strata -- just shy of entering the high order. His three companions were far from his level. One had 13 strata, the other two just 12. If they'd all been in peak condition, they'd have been difficult opponents, Gerd could at bet defeat one while suffering heavily in return. But they weren't. They were half an hour into the match. Gerd had predicted this confrontation, so he'd held back. His enemies however, had fought ferociously and were all beginning to tire.

Vincent's groups started with six, but they'd lost two already. His group was one of the strongest in the beginning, but it also blinded him with arrogance to dangers and he'd suffered as a result. They'd immediately headed for the most ferocious part of the arena and were now down two. None of the four were in top shape. The 13 stratum warrior's left arm had a large gash and couldn't be used for attacks anymore. One of the others was blind in his one eye and the last had a sprained leg which left him limp.

Gerd didn't dare force his way if the three were unharmed. But they were only three warriors on the brink of defeat, so he stood a pretty decent chance of winning. He calmly analyzed the situation before setting his sights on the bow-wielding one. Enemies who could attack from a distance were troublesome and had to be dealt with first. He grunted loudly and charged.

The bowman was a ranger; rangers were agile and accurate. Unfortunately, he had fallen prey to a magus's slip spell earlier and lost his balance. He sprained his leg in the fall. Seeing Gerd rush at him, he knew things were bad. He retreated as he called for help, firing arrows non-stop along the way. In his panic, however, he was far less accurate. Most of the arrows missed, only a few hit, but even they were just grazes.

"Hargh!" Gerd cried as he closed the last bit of distance separating him from his kill. The sudden burst of speed caught the ranger's companions off guard and they failed to block him.

His gloved right hand shot out at the ranger. The mithril gauntlet struck dead-center in the chest. The man spat out a mouth of blood and his lunch and flew back five meters. He was unconscious when he hit the ground.

Leguna fought Vincent half-heartedly as he kept an eye on Gerd's fight. His eyes nearly fell out of their sockets when he saw the attack. This was very familiar… just like Balor's Swiftshadow Slash, in fact.

The two remaining opponents watched their companion roll on the floor like a rag doll. It only took them half a moment to snap out of their daze, however, and they quickly dashed at Gerd as he recovered his balance.

The attack took a pretty decent portion of Gerd's strength. He avoided the two strikes, though with some difficulty. But a rapid response by one of the enemies impaled his torso on a sword. It didn't cause as much damage as he'd feared, though, just a five centimeter gash on his chest.

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