Ambush on the Streets
The cartwheel which was layered with wood and resin rattled as the carriage traveled along the street...
Within the carriage, instructor Marlin lay upon the front seat and snored softly. Lorist felt incredibly satisfied with this carriage that he had just been gifted with as the build quality was impeccable and the ride was stable and comfy. The horses were well-trained and behaved as well. As for the Reidy, Lorist really didn't expect for his driving skills to be this good. It seemed that taking Reidy in to be his attendant was a good choice after all as Els had said.
Oh, there's a small handle here. The window can be opened after all! Ah, the feeling of the night breeze sure is refreshing, thought Lorist as he opened the window curiously as the scene of the nighttime streets passed by his view.
Huh? "Stop the carriage!" exclaimed Lorist.
"Easy, horsey..." commanded Reidy as he pulled on the reins. The carriage moved forward for another seven to eight meters before stopping completely as the Zeno Horses snorted in dissatisfaction.
"What's wrong, master?" asked Reidy.
Having been accepted as Lorist's servant, Reidy has changed the way he referred to him. In Grindia, calling someone 'master' wasn't a sign of being owned as per the relationship of a master and a slave but rather the sign of trust for the person who would make decisions for oneself to follow.
"Turn back a little bit. Stop at the light pole beside the small plaza over there," instructed Lorist.
"Okay." Reidy pulled on the reins to turn the Zeno Horses in the opposite direction and steered the carriage towards the streetlights by the plaza.
Lorist got off from the carriage and walked towards the bench beside a flower patch in the plaza.
Sitting on top of the bench was an adult and two children who were huddled tightly together. At that moment, the adult moved a little upon hearing the footsteps of Lorist approaching and opened his half awake eyes. Seeing Lorist walking towards him, he couldn't help but exclaim in surprise. "It's you..."
"Hi. Are those two your children?" asked Lorist, looking like he suddenly understood something.
This middle-aged man was the last person that had challenged Lorist today who had left quite a deep impression given his skills relative to the other challengers. "Yes, this is my son Howard, he's 12 this year. Here's my daughter Alisa, she's 7," introduced Potterfang.
"Are you going to spend the night here with them?" Lorist didn't expect that a peak Silver ranked swordsman would be living homelessly like a wandering beggar. Had Potterfang not impressed him during the duel, he might not have even remembered his face let alone asked Reidy to stop the carriage.
Potterfang's face showed a pained smile as he said, "I have just come over here from the Krissen Empire, so I didn't bring much luggage with me. Also, I was too greedy and believed that I would definitely win against you in the challenge and get the reward money, so I bet the rest of my savings for the registration fee. Before arriving here, I relied on selling my belongings to survive. Up until today, I was quite confident in my abilities. I would never have expected to lose to your hands and disappoint my children. Having lost a large sum of money by betting on me and because of the overdue rent, the landlord kicked me out and left me homeless. Right now, I have nowhere to return to nor any identification documents, so I can only spend the night in this public space."
Lorist understood that had he been a normal Iron rank, he would definitely not be Potterfang's match. However, no one knew that he did not train mainly in Battle Force but rather in the Aquametal Technique from his previous life.
"Couldn't you just accept a mercenary mission?" Lorist asked. It was not rare for skilled mercenaries like Potterfang to be in high demand for various jobs from guarding a residence to helping out in a mercenary group. Many large mercenary groups would even accept an expert like Potterfang without asking him to pay the membership fee.
"I tried doing just that, but it still didn't work out," said Potterfang as he shook his head. "I'm already regretting my decision to travel to Morante City. I didn't expect the 'freedom and equality' I sought so much in Morante City was nothing but a mirage as the local citizens are extremely abhorrent and discriminatory towards us outsiders. I've witnessed several non local mercenaries having trouble finding requests in this city's mercenary guilds and are sometimes forced to accept difficult missions for an unfair price. That was especially the case for a citizen of the Krissen Empire like me, who is even more despised by the city folk among the other outsiders. Even though the war had ended over 20 years ago and the empire is already no more, the people of this city still treat us as enemies. I also have to consider the future of my children so I can't accept missions that are too risky... If I had won earlier today, I would've used the reward money to leave this place and go to another kingdom or nation. Otherwise, I wouldn't be able to receive the freedom and fairness that I had sought so much in futility in this city."
Potterfang explained his experiences in a tone that was both depressing and slightly laced with hatred and regret. If he had not been overconfident in his abilities and not caved in to the landlord's encouragement or be blinded by the luxurious prize money, he wouldn't have bet all his savings on the registration fee. Those 10 gold coins would have been enough for him to bring his children to leave this cold and materialistic city and settle down in another small village where he would be able to afford several acres of farmland and a small hut, which would be more than enough for his children to lead a stable life.
Sigh, I can only blame myself for being blinded by greed and losing my ability to think clearly, thought Potterfang as he lowered his head in frustration. No Iron ranked instructor in the right mind would challenge all the SIlver ranked instructors without a certain degree of confidence. Even Potterfang himself didn't dare to claim that he was the strongest among those of the same rank as him. He only understood that fact after he lost the battle, but it was already too late.
"Which part of the Krissen Empire did you come from?" asked Lorist.
"I am from the northern lands," replied Potterfang.
"Wow, that's a coincidence. My birthplace is also in the Krissen Empire. I'm sure they announced my name during the duels in the morning. I'm called Norton Lorist. Have you heard of the Norton family?" Lorist was delighted to have encountered someone from his homeland.
"Norton? The Roaring Bear of the Far Desolate North? I've definitely heard of them, the Nortons are famous nobles who were known for their military contributions. Many commoners joined the army in hopes of distinguishing themselves and gaining a noble title like the Norton family founder and be granted a dominion. But, how many among all those soldiers had managed to achieve that dream? Then again, why is someone like you at the Morante City and accepting challenges from Silver ranked combatants?" asked Potterfang, intrigued.
Lorist smiled and said, "Well, that is kind of a long story. To summarize, I have left my home to pursue my studies here in Morante City ten years ago. Ever since the internal disputes in the empire six or seven years ago, I have lost all contact with my family. You're a northerner too, right? Do you know something about my family?"
Potterfang seemed relieved but shook his head a little after a pause. "Sorry, I have also been away from home for more than 20 years. The northlands are vast. I come from Mond Town, which is quite far from your family's dominion. It would take approximately 3-4 days on horseback to even get there. When I was 21, I left my home to enlist for the army and worked my way up from a common soldier to a military officer and continued living my life in service. Given that I had no other relatives, I got married and settled down in the capital city. Never would I have expected internal strife to consume our empire. During the six years the three princes fought for the throne, the capital was totally decimated. After the chaos calmed down, I went back to the capital only to discover that almost everything I had was lost. With my wife dead, my two children had to rely on scraps and leftovers and somehow managed to survive. Had it not been for the care of certain neighbors, I might have lost even them. After that, I packed whatever I had and made my way to this city in hopes of being able to start a new life here..."
Oh, so he had a military background and is already accustomed to seeing the death and despair on the battlefield. No wonder he was so calm and firm throughout the whole battle. Given his strength as a peak Silver rank expert, he could've easily robbed the common folk and made a decent living for himself, but instead, he would rather live a harsh life with his children in the streets. It isn't easy to find a person that's as upright as him.
At that moment, Reidy came over to Lorist's side and gave Potterfang and his children a look before whispering, "Master, what's going on?"
Lorist looked at Potterfang and made his invitation, "Given that we already had crossed swords as fellow swordsmen, and the fact that we share the same homeland, Brother Potterfang, do I have the pleasure to invite you to come with us as guests? After all, I still have much to ask about the situation back at the empire and we can't be talking here all night long."
"This..." Potterfang seemed hesitant. He understood that Lorist made the offer with good intentions, however his pride wouldn't easily allow him to accept that gesture of kindness given the pathetic state he was in.
A cold breeze blew and the two children sleeping in his embrace sneezed loudly.
Lorist stepped forward and shielded them from the breeze. "Brother, I know that you have your pride as a soldier and isn't willing to accept people's kindness for nothing, but you have to consider the welfare of your children. Even though it's only spring, the nighttime air is rather chilly and your kids will easily get a cold that would cause you even more trouble given your predicament. Also, as a fellow northerner, I can't rest easy if I'm not able to help you in any way. You should know that northerners like us have a warm custom of providing our guests with top notch hospitality. What more is there to think about? Let's go."
"Alright then, please pardon my intrusion," said Potterfang resolutely as he accepted Lorist's invitation.
As Potterfang was about to wake his son with his daughter in his arms, Lorist placed his finger at his lips and shushed before saying, "Don't wake him. Let me carry him."
"I think you can leave that to me, master," Reidy said as he walked towards the child and lifted him up.
Hmm, a 16-year-old like him can carry a 12-year-old boy as if he weighed nothing more than a feather. Els really wasn't exaggerating when he mentioned Reidy's strength and vigor.
Potterfang bent down again to pick up his longsword and his small pouch. As it was his personal belongings, Lorist felt hesitant to help him take it.
"Let's get on the carriage first. My drunk colleague's in there though as I still have to send him home. I hope you wouldn't mind squeezing for a bit," said Lorist while pointing at the carriage.
"Mister Norton, you don't have to be so polite. I am already thankful for your kind generosity," thanked Potterfang.
Lorist turned and walked towards the carriage. "Just call me Locke. I'm not too comfortable with being referred to so formally. It's better if you just call me by name. Can I call you Pot..."
"Watch out! To your left!" Potterfang shouted urgently.
Lorist prepared to dodge as four 30 centimeter blades of light flew into his line of sight.
No, I can't evade these attacks. Otherwise, they would hit Potterfang who's carrying his daughter and Reidy who's holding the son. From the corner of his eyes, Lorist could see Potterfang already turning to his back and preparing to shield his daughter from the light blades. It was apparent that he expected Lorist to dodge and has braced himself to take the damage. Reidy on the other hand was completely stunned from suddenly being placed in a dangerous situation.
Sol, the attackers are Gold ranked combatants. Where's my sword? Lorist reached out for his longsword only to notice that he had left it on the seat in the carriage. It was fortunate that he still wore his short sword on his hip.
Shiiiing! The short sword made a sound as it was drawn out of the scabbard. Clang, clang, clang, clang! Within but a flash, the short sword danced mid-air and struck down the four blades of light. Judging by the strength and velocity of the blades, Lorist estimated that the blades were unleashed by a One Star Gold Swordsman. While an enemy of such caliber wasn't an inherent threat to him, he only had his sidearm with him and wasn't able to react well to the sudden attack.
"Bring the kids to the carriage. Reidy, drive back to the inn and let me handle this, quick!" exclaimed Lorist.
"Huh, you managed to parry my blades of light. I see that you're pretty resilient for a mere Iron rank." Two silhouettes emerged from the dark alley by the plaza and slowly walked towards Lorist's party.
"Relax, we're not here for your life. We did however receive a request from someone to take one of your arms. No worries, I'll make it quick so it'll be over in a second, hehe," said one of the approaching figures with his cynical, confident voice.
"You better be ready to put your life on the line if you want to try," Lorist replied coldly.
"Hehehe, we don't even fear Silver rank fighters. Killing you would be easier than slaying a chicken! At least a chicken would be able to hide somewhere tight. Where would you be able to hide?"
"Apprentice brother, let's not waste too much words on him. Who's attacking first? The sooner we settle this the faster we can return to the girls who are still waiting in our rooms," said the other in a rather frustrated tone.
Upon leaving his daughter in the carriage, Potterfang grabbed Lorist's sword and passed it to him quickly.
"They're here for me, you're not involved in this," said Lorist as he accepted the sword. Seeing Reidy leaving with the carriage, Lorist felt more relieved.
"The light blade just now also came towards my beloved Alisa," said Potterfang angrily as he drew the sword in his hand with a crisp sound. Had Lorist not struck down the attacks, Alisa would've been seriously wounded. Even though the assailants came for Lorist, they didn't care much for Potterfang and his daughter and had no issue with placing them in harm's way. There was no way that Potterfang would let them off with this.
"You better watch out, they're Gold ranks," reminded Lorist.
"Hmph, it's not like I haven't fought Gold ranks before. I've even killed a couple of them on the battlefield," said Potterfang.
"Hehe, you have a big mouth, don't you? I'll see how well you fare fighting against a Gold rank like me. Junior apprentice brother, there's one for each of us. I'll let you handle the Iron rank. Leave killing this Silver rank to me."
Having finished their discussion, the two assailants rushed towards Lorist and Potterfang with killing intent.
 This is a rather interesting play on the words for the term 'master'. In Chinese, the term master is . The author mentioned that in Grindia does not refer to 'master' in the conventional sense but is actually a short way of saying , which means 'one who makes decisions'.