The Great Chase
One day after another passed just like that. Even though Leguna had issued the order in the bureau, other organizations in the empire also tried to track Kurdak down.
Logically, there was no need to spend so many resources on a single convict. But as Kurdak was the commander of his own independent brigade, his position was quite a high one. Coupled with his crime of attempting to kidnap a governor, he had done the empire a huge slight.
So, the empire had to capture him no matter what, even if it was to save face. Other than that, there were many within Melindor who wanted Kurdak dead. They only had to put in a little effort.
Despite the blocks set up all across the empire, Kurdak was still not captured after more than a month. But part of that was due to Leguna being lax on him. Otherwise, the agents of the largest intelligence agency would've long caught up with him.
Though he spent much time evading capture, Kurdak felt he was at his limit. The places where he could roam were running out and the empire was sending out more and more men on his tail. It was said that even Prince Geoffrey was involved in the manhunt.
Leguna secretly cursed when he got wind of that. It had been more than a month since the academies were ready and the two principals had much more free time before the new semester started. Geoffrey the fool chose to use that time to capture the Kurdak that displeased him greatly. He also wanted to use this opportunity to throw his clout as principal around. After all, the principal of the first academy couldn't lose out to that of the second.
He wanted to gain some achievements of his own. While he couldn't defeat the crimsonflame fiend, he was still confident in handling someone like Kurdak. He was still a magic genius, after all. He was just overshadowed by all the gifted around him.
Initially, people thought that Annelotte would join in the competition as well since Kurdak had broken it off with Leguna. It stood to reason that the glacial empress, Leguna's close associate, wouldn't take it easy on Kurdak. Interestingly, while the citizens of the empire cursed Leguna for not being loyal to his friend when he issued the capture order, nobody had anything negative to say about the prospect of Annelotte joining the hunt like it was the most natural thing in the world.
The reason for that was Leguna had been cemented in the citizens' mind as a cruel, cold, mysterious and murderous figure. They all saw him as they did Saron. Annelotte, in contrast, was an elegant, noble, reserved and powerful figure in their minds. It was obvious who they'd prefer, and their biases couldn't be clearer to see.
Regardless, many had believed that this would be the first clash between the two academies, yet Annelotte didn't do anything. Ever since the busywork with setting up the academy had been completed, Annelotte used her time for well-deserved rest. When she had nothing better to do, she would do some magic experimentation and give Innilis guidance. She spent her days relaxedly, not bothering with Geoffrey in his senseless competition for fame and glory. She didn't want to end up fighting Kurdak either.
Incidentally, Annelotte's guess about Innilis turned out to be correct. Ever since the incident, Innilis displayed decent magic talent. Innilis had become a peak low-order magus of the 6th stratum and wasn't far from stepping into the mid-order.
As for Leguna, he had been observing the situation for the past month. To prevent Kurdak from being exposed, he didn't dare to send his agents to look into his whereabouts. He also noticed that Vera had disappeared.
It could've been a chance Leguna could find out Kurdak's intentions, but he had mistakenly thought that Kurdak had hidden Vera away beforehand before he did what he did. Lamir was the general's daughter so her safety was more or less assured, but Vera was only his adjutant. If Kurdak really was a turncoat, he had to make sure Vera was out of sight before doing what he did. Given the time of her disappearance, it lined up with his theory.
As such, the truth brushed past Leguna once more.
Kurdak stuffed some snow into his mouth. There was only half a month more before spring. If he continued to be on the run, he would no longer have the chance to rehydrate using snow.
What else could he do but keep running, though? He took a slight rest to recover his energy as he planned his next step. He still wasn't sure where Vera was and was being pursued by the empire. The situation couldn't be worse. As for Balor, he had vanished after their last interaction. What was going on? What should he do next? Where had he gone wrong?
However, he didn't have the luxury to consider those questions for long. The sounds of hooves and hunting dogs approached. This group of soldiers had been on his tail for three consecutive days. If he didn't think of a way to shake them off, those fellows would be on him to no end.
"Darn this!" Kurdak cursed as he continued to run. He thanked his lucky stars he managed to escape into a pine forest. If he were on the plains, he wouldn't be able to outrun the strong war horses of the empire.
Another chase had just broken out in the forest. Kurdak had thought that his huge physique was the masculine ideal, but now, he'd rather be as small as Innilis. That way, he wouldn't have to keep running because he couldn't find a good hiding spot.
I can't run anymore! The barks and hooves were getting louder and louder. Kurdak had no choice but to stop.
He had two ways of dealing with the soldiers. The first was to run, and the other was to cull them all with Lava Blade. He didn't like the latter option. After all, he had served in the army for quite some time and had developed some attachment for his fellow comrades. He wouldn't endanger their lives if he could and apart from some low-order warriors, there were also high-order warriors among them, so Kurdak alone couldn't necessarily take them all.
But now, he had no choice but to face battle. The hunting dogs were too fast and Kurdak couldn't outrun them. Continuing to do so would only sap his strength away. If they caught up to him anyway, he wouldn't be able to put up much resistance.
"You've been on me for so long, it's about time you stopped!" Kurdak took out Lava Blade from his dimensional pocket and let the soldiers surround him.
The high-order warrior leader came forward on horseback. He lowered his head at Kurdak and said, "Are you the Ironblood Greatbear, Commander Kurdak?"
"Kurdak I am, but don't call me commander," he said with a smile when he stuck his sword into the ground.
The leader gave him a mental nod of approval. He had heard that Kurdak was someone who got straight to the point. Even though he seemed quite haggard from the long chase, his attitude was still worthy of admiration. "I am Agnas. Sir, perhaps you haven't heard of me before, but I've long heard about your exploits."
"Oh?" Kurdak was quite surprised. He looked at the bearded warrior in his fifties. He sported a head of grey-white hair and his face looked battle-worn. There was a scar near the left side of his face. "I didn't think I'd have a fan…"
Agnas wore an awkward expression. It seemed that the man was just as the rumors described. Even so, he still kept his strict tone. "Sir, you've fought the Stokians for two long years with an elite force of a hundred men at the battle of Crimsonpeak. WIth your brigade, you also drove two Stokian brigades back. Even though I've been in service for 20 years, I have to admit that I am inferior to you with regards to wit and courage."
"Haha, those old men at Melindor don't remember my achievements. I didn't think someone over here would. All of a sudden, it feels like the battles I've fought haven't been for nought!"
"But--" Agnas's eyes turned cold. "--You dared betray the empire at this crucial time. It shames me to even think that someone of your caliber would do that!"
"So after all you said, you're still going to capture me, right?" Kurdak said and shrugged.
"I'm a soldier, and soldiers follow orders!"
"That's more like it!" Kurdak let his impetus surge. "Since you must fight me, why bother with the chit chat? Let's talk with our blades!"
"Good!" Agnas dismounted and drew his two-handed sword. While it didn't look as terrifying as Lava Blade, it was probably its equal in weight. Agnas held his sword like it was as light as a bamboo stick. "Since that's the case, I shall challenge you to a duel! Let me see whether your abilities match your fame!"Previous Chapter Next Chapter