“Is Your Highness confident in Jast?” Tamro whispered as he watched the two in the arena.
“I don’t know how powerful Kurdak is, so no,” Alissanda answered lazily.
“Then why did Your Highness let them make such a bet?!”
“Well, I don’t know Kurdak’s abilities, but I know him as a person. Don’t worry. No matter the result, he will join the mission.”
“Then I’m relieved.”
The prince was young, but he knew taking him as someone in his twenties was an easy mistake. Anything Alissanda said would almost certainly come true.
“Captain, do you think Kurdak is really that rare?” Alissanda asked, “You’re not kidding around with me, right?”
“Don’t worry, Your Highness. I’ve paid attention to him for a while now. He leads his party magnificently. If not for his sharp wit, they would have failed several missions.”
“Good. Alright, they’re about to start.”
“If Jast wins, I want some of the red wine you brought.”
“Hey! That’s good wine. It was a lot of trouble to get it!” Alissanda almost jumped. His former captain still hadn’t shaken off his habit of making bets for his wine.
“Why would Your Highness care about a bottle of wine? You can get Ruseau Manor to brew as many bottles as you want.”
“Alright, fine. I have no choice but to bet on Kurdak’s win. I want your dagger.”
They stopped speaking, their bet, and focused on the two in the arena.
“Say, why do you hate us so much?” Kurdak as frustratedly, his arms crossed, “I don’t recall ever offending you.”
“If you defeat me, I’ll tell you!”
Jast drew his lance straight away.
“Alright, sheesh. Tone it down a little...”
Kurdak rolled his eyes and brought out Lava Blade.
Jast’s rage boiled when he saw Kurdak’s nonchalant expression. He raised his lance and charged with a loud cry.
Jast mustered all his impetus and focused it on the tip of his lance. He spun it, drawing a semicircle in the air.
Kurdak also sprung into action. He slashed directly at the lance, his sword gripped tightly with both hands.
The clash unleashed masses of energy and blew the two men away from each other. Attentive onlookers, however, noticed Kurdak suffered a little less than his opponent. He was flung back only slightly while Jast stumbled a few steps.
[Jast still isn’t Kurdak’s match,] Gahrona concluded.
[Why?] Leguna asked.
[Don’t forget what he does for a living. He’s a soldier, and he fights in formations. His skills must be suitable for use on the battlefield. Most of them have a wide area of effect but limited effect on single targets. Round-moon Flash has a great range, but doesn’t do much damage. Kurdak is a mercenary. He has experience fighting in groups, but most of the time he fights one-on-one. Jast made a mistake when he picked a fight with Kurdak.]
The rest of the fight matched Gahrona’s description. All of Jast’s attacks had a wide range of effect, but lacked the power to push through Kurdak’s defenses. The burly mercenary gradually increased his advantages as he wore the knight down patiently. He analysed his enemy’s movements and figured out where Jast’s weaknesses lay and prepared to take advantage of them.
Jast was not a fool, however; he noticed Kurdak's intentions and kept as far from him as his lance would let him. The lance was the better weapon in great battles, no sword formation could win against a good lance formation. A wall of lances could kill everyone long before they got close enough to strike with their swords, plus the constant thrusts were more suited to fighting shoulder to shoulder than trying to swing a blade with people standing right next to you. The lance, however, didn’t have a cutting edge along its length like the sword, so once the enemy was closer than the lance’s tip, it was basically just a long stick. Close combat was the worst thing that could happen to a lance wielder.
Kurdak didn’t try to force anything, however. Once his enemy started taking action against his tactic, he gave up pressing for holes, and instead hanged back and just continued wearing him down at his own unpanicked pace, relying on his amazing physique to hold out longer than his opponent. His skills consumed less energy than Jast’s while dealing more force. If he was patient, victory would be his.
As time passed, Jast began to fall further and further behind, his moves grew sloppier and his reactions slower. He burst out with two skills to push Kurdak back and tried to catch his breath, but Kurdak would not give him the chance. He immediately charged back in and forced Jast to re-engage. Jast held out admirably once again, but his hands shivered after a particularly powerful strike and his lance was sent flying. A moment later, his opponent’s dark red blade was pressed against his throat.
“You’ve lost,” Kurdak huffed.
He was better off than Jast, but only marginally. If Jast had held on for a minute more, he might have been the victor instead.
Hatred flashed across Jast’s eyes. He pushed his neck forward against Kurdak’s blade, drawing a thin line of blood.
“What are you doing?!” someone shouted.
“What the hell?!” Kurdak’s quickly withdrew the blade a little and pushed Jast to the ground.
“Are you crazy?!”
Kurdak was not happy. If he had been just a moment slower, he would have been the one responsible for the death of the second prince’s chief subordinate. Intentional or not, in a mutually agreed-upon duel or not, the trouble would have been endless.
“I’d rather die than kowtow to the likes of you!” Jast spat on Kurdak’s blade as he reached for his dagger.
Kurdak quickly stepped on his arm.
“Don’t throw a tantrum here. I won’t ask you to apologize. okay?”
“I don’t need your pity!” Jast snapped, spitting again.
“I don’t pity someone who wants to throw their life away for no good reason. If you want to die, then fine, but don’t drag innocent bystanders into your issues. That’s just inconsiderate! Did I kill your family or something? Why do you want to haunt me even in death?”
“Yes! Yes you did kill my whole family!” Jast roared, “Your kind are exactly the people who murdered my beloved family with their filthy paws!”
“So now you hate all mercenaries, including us?”
“Yes!” Jast bellowed, eyes bloodshot.
Kurdak stared at the fool emotionlessly, but eventually sighed before stepping off him.
“Get up. The fight’s over. I lose.”
“Are you insulting me?” Jast snapped venomously.
“Stop being so thick-headed, will you? Yes, I and my companions are mercenaries, and yes, we’ve killed many people, but neither I nor anyone I know had anything to do with your family’s death.”
“Your hands might not have been the ones to strangle the life from my family, but you’ve chosen to become the same kind of people.”
“You make it sound like you’re a saint. Tell me, have you ever killed someone?”
“That’s completely different!”
“Is it really? Every man you kill is a father, a brother, a husband, a son. How many people walk around with the same hatred in their hearts that you do, but because of and towards you? Killing is killing, no matter the reason behind it. I’ve never heard of a justified murder. There is nothing in this world either you or I can do that does not hurt someone else somewhere in the world, nothing that someone somewhere will see as unjust. That’s why I don’t bother with what others think is right or just, nor do I care about anyone’s ‘forgiveness’ for anything I’ve done in the past or may do in the future. I will be content if I can die in my old day without regrets, if I can look at my companions standing by my bedside proudly. If I can face my loved ones in my final moments without guilt in my heart, that is enough for me.”
“The fight’s over, I’m done. We’ll help you with whatever your damned mission is, but after that we’re done. If you want to fight me again, come find me sometime later. I’ll entertain you anytime. But I tell you now, I don’t owe you anything. Not a single damn thing! And neither I nor any of my friends have done anything to deserve this treatment.”
“Did Your Highness predict this as well?” Tamro asked.
“Yes. This has been troubling Jast for a while. I thought this would be a good chance to finally get this off his chest.” Alissanda nodded. He had been with Jast for a few years now and understood him well.
“I don’t know if this is over or not, but I’ve lost my bet,” Tamro sighed, handing over his dagger, “It’s yours!”
“I got three things from one duel. What a steal!” Alissanda smiled jovially.
“Apologies. I’ve made the decision alone again,” Kurdak said when he got back to Vera and Leguna.
“It’s fine. I’m not against one more excursion, but just one more,” Vera said.
“Alright, so it’s one more mission,” Kurdak said to Alissanda.
“I knew I didn’t misjudge you.”
Alissanda smiled like he had expected it all along.
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