Kurdak was feeling rather embarrassed as his two comrades didn't treat him like an ally in the slightest. Vera had already pulverized his left ear and was staring at his other one as if she was dissatisfied with their asymmetry.
Leguna was even more active. He jumped on Kurdak's shoulder like a monkey. The only difference was that normal monkeys were rather well behaved and would pick out any lice they noticed. The youth sitting on his back was far more terrifying. His brownish-yellow hair had been ruffled so hard it became something that rivaled a bird's nest. Had it not been for his tough scalp, he would've turned bald by the time he arrived at the venue.
With Leguna on his back and Vera holding his ear, he looked coldly at Orwen who was currently wearing a disgusting smile. Most people feared Orwen, but not Kurdak, not after he had interfered with him half a year ago. Back then, Kurdak behaved as if he was going to face off against the strongest enemy he had ever encountered. After all, Orwen was the man who had killed the nobles of Brisonis. But after a short fight, he realized he could actually hold his own against him. He wasn't nearly as scary as the rumors suggested. At the very least, there wasn't much Orwen could do to him during the fight.
While there was a chance Orwen had been holding back, it seemed unlikely given his temperament. He was a man who'd tear anyone who ruined his affairs apart. Kurdak still being alive and well despite having offended him was a testament to the true extent of Orwen's strength. Coupled with the rejuvenation provided by the werewolf blood that flowed in his veins and his growth in the past half a year, Kurdak believed he stood a good chance against Orwen in a fight. After reading the information Annelotte had provided, he was even more assured of his chances.
The documents Annelotte had given him on Orwen was incredibly detailed. The documents detailed almost every piece of information on the assassin, including his hobbies, fighting style, skills, affairs, and more. He'd spent a whole day studying them and made sure he grasped most of the important facts on his opponent. However, the reports didn't detail Orwen's alleged involvement in the Brisonis incident. It made Kurdak suspect Orwen's involvement in the affair. Maybe he was just the scapegoat and someone else entirely was behind the ugly business.
"Every time I see that smile of yours, I feel an urge to give you a slap or two. It seems that wish will come true today," said Kurdak coldly.
"Did Annelotte come?" asked Leguna as he looked around, still seated on Kurdak's shoulder.
"I doubt she'd be interested in the duel. Also, get down before I make you," answered Kurdak as he reached out and slipped Leguna off his shoulder.
"Boss," Leguna called as he handed over Flameblade, "Take this with you. It's always better to be prepared just in case."
Kurdak took it and he nodded. His gaze moved to Vera, who seemed to want to say something.
"I doubt I'll need your bow and arrows."
"Hmph, I won't lend them to you even if you want them," retorted Vera angrily.
"It'll be alright. Don't be so anxious. What's so scary about Orwen? Just go order something to eat so I can have a feast when I get back!" comforted Kurdak with a smile.
He headed off to prepare for the duel.
"Be... Be careful. Our... our gold coins depend on you! Don't lose, okay?!"
Though she wanted to say something encouraging, Vera changed her tone at the last minute when she saw Kurdak's mischievous expression. Kurdak was too bothered by the shock that all Vera cared about now was money to notice.
While dueling wasn't a legal way to resolve conflict within the Nine Cities Federation, it was a method employed since days long passed that had endured. The Federation had always been rather tolerant of duels. They wouldn't bother to investigate deaths related to duels. All they insisted on was that duels not be carried out in cities themselves. That was why Orwen had picked the east gate as the venue.
The two duelers went to an empty plot of land and the audience followed. They encircled it, forming a ring of people roughly 60 meters across. People from the Association walked to the center and announced they were there to bear witness and ensure the duel's fairness. They only gave a simple explanation of what they would do and left. They knew better than anyone the crowd was already getting rather impatient and nobody could be bothered to listen to unimportant fluff.
"Do you have any last words before I send you off?" asked Orwen as he drew the longsword from his back. Even though a light and flexible dagger was far more useful for assassinations, longswords were far better suited to fighting a warrior like Kurdak head-on.
"You didn't kill Brisonis's lord," said Kurdak all of a sudden, before he roared and charged at Orwen.
Though Orwen was surprised to hear this, a hardened assassin like him wouldn't be shaken by something so trivial. He only fell into a daze for a moment before he came back to his senses and focused his attention on the fight.
A wave of impetus exploded from Kurdak's body, allowing the heavy two-handed sword in his hand to be waved around like a light bamboo stick.
Kurdak gathered all the impetus he could into his two-handed sword; the blade radiated a faint glow. He raised it and swung it down vertically at Orwen.
Voidbreak Slash was the skill in which Kurdak was most proficient. Skills were special techniques one could use to guide and apply impetus to one's moves. It was commonly known that, apart from strengthening the body, impetus could also be used to sharpen the weapon. Experienced fighters could use their impetus to raise their battle power greatly. Skills were unlike spells in that they didn't require mathematical precision. They were also not really dependent on the stratum of the user's impetus. That was why even a rookie third stratum warrior could use many different skills as long as he was talented enough.
Naturally, that wasn't always the case. There were skills that required one to be at a certain stratum to be effectively utilized. Voidbreak Slash, for instance, was a technique where one infused large amounts of impetus into one's weapon to form a secondary cutting edge on the blade. Even though a weapon executing Voidbreak Slash only struck once, its target would suffer two slashes as if it had been cut twice in quick succession. But if a person's stratum was low, they couldn't execute Voidbreak Slash properly. The impetus wouldn't congeal into a cutting edge and increase the strike's damage.
Leguna had long read a short introduction to skills in Wayerliss's notebook, so he wasn't unfamiliar with Kurdak's. Due to its might and imposing manner, Voidbreak Slash was a skill many mid-order warriors loved to use. However, Leguna couldn't execute it. Though his impetus was at the sixth stratum, his physique and build meant that he didn't possess the amount of impetus usually associated with someone in the sixth stratum.
Voidbreak Slash was a skill that required a large pool of impetus from which to draw to form a secondary cutting edge. If he were to try to execute it, he might end up having all his impetus drained and experience severe fatigue. It wouldn't be long before he would no longer be able to fight. That was why Voidbreak Slash was to only be utilized by big-bodied warriors like Kurdak with great natural strength.
Kurdak started off with a concentrated flurry of attacks. While he didn't fear Orwen after doing some research, he couldn't help but admit that his cold and unpredictable attacks were rather threatening. So, he aimed to seal off his movements altogether and exploit the advantage his large frame afforded him. He knew assassins who mostly snuck around to kill unprepared victims wouldn't have stamina to spare and intended to wear Orwen down.
Reality played out as he hoped. His strategy was rather effective; Orwen struggled to dodge and parry throughout the fight without being able to deal a counter.
Orwen was rather dumbstruck by how it was turning out. While he had already predicted Kurdak would attack ferociously from the beginning, he didn't think the huge man could grasp his footwork so accurately, with the chain of attacks he launched sealing off his avenues of escape before he could react, causing him to be unable to take even a short breather.
He had planned to return a fatal blow when his opponent revealed an opening, but for some reason, Kurdak could predict his moves before he even acted. Where Orwen intended to dodge, Kurdak launched his strikes first. Had it not been for his quick reactions, the battle would've long ended with his loss.
Kurdak's performance was already well beyond everyone's expectations. Though the man had quite the reputation in Starfall, being trustworthy and capable, people didn't really think he stood a chance against Orwen -- who managed to assassinate Brisonis's lord. Now that they saw Orwen struggling to hold his own, though, the audience felt rather marveled.
Haggardly avoiding one attack after another, Orwen maintained his calm despite his dark expression. He refused to panic. Kurdak roared again as he raised his two-handed sword. When Orwen realized he was slowing down, his eyes widened and he retreated with shocking speed. Not only did he manage to avoid Kurdak's strike, he also moved more than ten meters away.
Kurdak looked at Orwen cautiously. He needed some time to catch his breath.
His face flushed, Orwen he breathed with noticeable effort.
"... didn't think... you'd entered the ninth... stratum! But do-don't... think you're the... only one... who broke through!"
In the next second, Orwen's speed was completely unleashed without warning. The most shocking part was that the impetus he used felt one stratum higher than Kurdak's. He had already reached the tenth stratum!
EDITOR'S NOTE: It is highly debatable whether longswords and similar-sized weapons can actually be drawn from the back. But hey, since when have authors cared about physiology, right?
Previous Chapter Next Chapter