Ade's face was the picture of flabbergastment. He grit his teeth and tried to push harder with his arms, but no matter how hard he tried, the hammer didn't budge.
"You're only average," Kurdak commented.
He wasn't intentionally mocking the man, he simply was just average. He could put out at least three times as much power as Ade even when he only had nine strata like the man does now. Even so, his words turned the man's face red, and he pushed himself even harder in response.
Kurdak gazed at him for several seconds, then, at the perfect moment, let go. Ade fell flat on his arse.
Kurdak cracked his shoulders and smiled.
"Next, let's test your reaction speed!"
He vanished for a moment and appeared right in front of the poor man. The guy started so badly he let go of his hammer and just tried to block with his hand as he kicked back frantically with his feet. Kurdak's fist connected a moment later, leaving a deep imprint on his face.
"Bad reaction time." Kurdak said, frowning as he stretched out his hand.
The man just stared up at in incredulously.
"Get up!" Kurdak said, frustrated, "Don't tell me you actually like sitting on the cold ground?"
Ade took Kurdak's hand and was pulled up.
"Good," Kurdak patted him on his shoulder, "I don't expect you to be happy with my command right away, but I do expect you to obey my orders. Anyone that's unhappy with me can come for a beating whenever they like!" he shouted at the crowd.
"Understood," Ade said, finally, lowering his head.
"Get back in line, or whatever you call that," Kurdak said, pointing at the mess of men.
"Anyone else?" he asked, his eyes scanning the mass.
Four more stepped out.
"Ade's incompetent. I'll show you what real strength is!"
"You idiot! I'm way stronger than you, I go first!"
"Hey-hey-hey, stop arguing! I'm going first, anyway!"
"Oh, grow up!" Kurdak shouted, waving at them with one hand while the other pinched the bridge of his nose, "Just come at me at the same time."
"Heh! Those are some big words there! Don't look down on us!" the three shouted, their argument dead the moment Kurdak spoke.
Kurdak ignored them, however, and clasped Lava Blade. He hefted the mass of steel onto his shoulder and glared at them challengingly.
"If you want me to think higher of you, then show me some actual ability! I grow tired of empty boasts."
The four glanced at one another, and one stepped forward again.
"Suit yourself. We'll show everyone here who's the one making empty boasts."
They all took their places in front of him and drew their weapons.
"Better be careful, blades don't know to hold back."
"That's my line!" Kurdak shouted angrily as he charged at them.
"Hah!" they shouted and lunged at him in turn.
"Round-moon Flash!" Kurdak roared.
"Oh? He learned how to use it after fighting him only once?" Vera commented.
It was designed for lances, but Lava Blade's length meant it could be used with it as well, if somewhat less effectively due to its mass. But Kurdak didn't swing the blade at all. Kurdak turned the flat of the blade in the direction of his swung, like a fly swatter. He wanted to smash them into pulp so no one would challenge him again, but he didn't want to kill his own men. His strata surged, and he pumped every once of strength into his arms.
Lava Blade burst into flames as Kurdak's impetus poured into it. It's menacing aura and melting heat shot fear through the four. They all immediately decided they couldn't face the strike head on, but it was already too late. The flat of Kurdak's sword smashed into their weapons and turned them into powder in one go.
The four didn't even get to grunt, the air just burst out of their mouth as their lungs collapsed under the pressure and they were sent flying. The crossed over the crowd and smashed into an earthwork on the other side.
"Ugh!" one groaned.
"I didn't rag on Ade as badly because he only came after me because he didn't know how strong I was. You four, on the other hand… you had a perfectly good demonstration of what I could do, yet you still came at me… I might forgive recklessness, but I can't accept idiocy!
"Take them to the infirmary. They'll need treatment," he told Blackie.
"Yes, Sir," Blackie said, thankful that he'd not gotten involved in the confrontations.
He had suspected Kurdak was stronger than initial impressions might suggest, but he didn't come even close to suspecting he was a high-order warrior! He could have demanded command of an entire division, why did he settle for being a major of a vagrant brigade?
"Anyone else want a piece?" the brute asked again.
The entire space went dead quiet. Everyone here was stubborn, but very few were idiots. They could compare their strength to those Kurdak had just fought, and everyone decided they could not match him.
"Good. Then from today onward I will hear nothing but agreement with my orders." Kurdak said, putting his sword back, "I used to be in command of the harvester squad that operated around Fort Kesta. I will hear only 'Yes, Sir, right away, Sir,' out of your mouths. If I say jump, you'll only ask how high!"
"Don't let this go to your head!" Vera snapped ripping a small piece of his skin between her nails.
She could be very stealthy when she wanted, so only she and Kurdak knew what was going on. She knew she couldn't undermine his authority in front of everyone now, so she didn't go too far even though she felt he was beginning to forget his place.
"Owowowowowow... I got too excited, that's all!" Kurdak shot through grit teeth.
The two suddenly noticed the uproar brewing in the mass.
"Did he say Fort Kesta? And he was in a harvester squad? Does that mean he knows Dark Requiem Leguna?"
"Wait, he said his name was Kurdak, could he be the Ironblood Greatbear?!"
"Ironblood Greatbear? Kurdak?! Right! I heard about him!"
"He looks old enough, at least!"
"I heard the Ironblood Greatbear took Pato with Prince Alissanda and destroyed a key supply network in the area. I think he was also there when Dark Requiem beat the Crimsonflame Fiend."
"That's only the last couple of things he did. I heard even before that he worked with Dark Requiem to wipe out scores of Stokian units."
"Eh? He's our major? I didn't think he'd be such a big shot!"
"Looks like we at least got someone competent."
Kurdak listened happily to their praises. He didn't expect to hear the nickname Leguna gave him on a whim when he was introducing him to Daver, though. How did it spread all over the empire?
The truth was that Arikos had more than a little to do with it. He was intent on getting everything ready for Leguna's takeover of the bureau so he made sure to spread rumors about him. It was unavoidable that his friends would be mentioned from time to time as well, though that was entirely incidental.
It wouldn't do for Leguna's friends to have tepid nicknames. It would reflect badly on him, so he thought of decent ones to give them, something to match Leguna's sobriquet. He recalled the one Leguna had given his boss and decided it would do nicely. Not to mention that he knew Kurdak didn't really like it, so it would be a nice little bit of mischief as well.
Which bastard did this? I just mocked Red-bellied Snake, but now I'm slapped with this?! What will happen if people start calling me teddy bear instead?
Luckily no one thought about his comment to Red-bellied Snake.