To the audience who were spectating the duels, Lorist who was fighting on the dueling platform looked ragged to the extreme. The bandage wrapped around his left shoulder was stained red with blood while the bandage around the right torso had blood dripping out from it. Lorist was covered in sweat all over and his face looked so pale that it seemed that a single strike would manage to knock him to the ground with his sword cast away, resulting in an automatic loss.

However, Lorist still stood straight up like a mountain with an unwavering expression. Due to his injury on his right torso, his right arm hung limply from his shoulder and could only exert force occasionally when he gripped his sword with both his arms. On the other hand (pun unintended), his left arm had almost no problems in executing all the basic sword moves in a natural, practiced manner that wasn’t at all inferior to that of his right arm in its uninjured state.

Facing the ferocious flurry of attacks from his opponent, Lorist stood straight like a pine tree in a storm, not once lowering its head to the ferocious winds. His stance was also stable as an unmoving boulder near the coast that doesn’t budge at all no matter how forceful the wave.

The opponent was also panting rather heavily as the continuous attacks from Lorist pushed him into a corner. The opponent wielded a two-handed sword which was suitable for attacking but quite lacking when it came to defense. Lorist’s rapid, suppressive attacks for the last ten minutes had frightened him quite visibly. Despite his experience sparring against his colleagues in his academy or otherwise, no one has ever held up against him for that long a time, notwithstanding the fact that Lorist was only an Iron Swordsman.

“What are you doing, idiot! Don’t let him catch his breath! Circle around him and continue attacking! Go for his back! He’s already bleeding and he won’t be able to hold up for long! Don’t stop and heighten the intensity of your attacks! Go!”

The Saint Marceau Academy Head’s voice rang out loudly from the audience seat. The academy head was already panicking to the point where he couldn’t sit still and acted in a way that was not befitting of his status in front of all those people.

It was the 15th academy dueling day and the challengers were from the main rival of the Dawn Academy, the Saint Marceau Academy. It’s no wonder that Academy Head Weston totally lost his bearing and behaved like that as the current ongoing duel was the 20th and the last one of the day. The Silver ranked instructor on the dueling platform was the only remaining challenger for the day whereas all the others had already lost. To Academy Head Weston, his hopes on saving the Saint Marceau Academy’s face from losing the bet against the Dawn Academy were all laid on that instructor, whose opponent, Lorist, was still standing despite his haggard appearance.

The Silver ranked instructor heard his academy head’s bellows and started circling around Lorist and waited for an opportunity to attack. Lorist merely turned his left leg around with his right as the pivot to keep the opponent from facing his back.

“Attack! What are you still waiting for? That bastard is already out of energy! Quick, attack! We’re almost going to win!” cried Academy Head Weston as he stomped his feet on the ground.

“Gaarrgh!” cried the Silver ranked instructor as he leaped to attack.

“Hmph!” Lorist merely humphed coldly without taking a step back and pointed his sword toward the opening in his opponent’s move.

The Silver ranked instructor suddenly changed his maneuver from a stab to a sweep. Lorist’s longsword merely slanted and parried the move.

Clang, clang clang! The two swords let out clear, crisp sounds of ringing metal as they crossed. After ten-odd exchanges, the Silver Swordsman retreated to catch his breath while Lorist’s expression looked even more pained as his body swayed about unstably.

“Haha, attack! Quick, continue! He’s going to collapse! Haha!” Academy Head Weston was extremely pleased to see Lorist in such a state as he waved both his hands in the air with his face reddened with excitement!

The Silver ranked instructor pounced again using his two-handed sword to execute a wide horizontal slash.

Lorist’s defenses still held up without a flaw. However, each parry from his left arm grew weaker and weaker.

The Silver ranked instructor was elated and he put more energy into his strikes. Clang! Lorist’s longsword had already been knocked away and his chest was exposed.

The two-handed sword quickly slashed downwards with Lorist already unable to recover his stance to parry.

“It’s my win…!” screamed the Silver ranked instructor as he let out a breath of relief.

“He’s going to win!” Academy Head Weston gripped both his hands tightly.

……

Lorist took a slight step back…

This was the last duel with an instructor from the Saint Marceau Academy and it had already lasted for about 15 minutes. During the course of the duel, Lorist endured the Silver ranked instructor’s forceful rain of attacks without retaliating and defended without moving much from his spot. Everyone present was so focused on the flurry of attacks that they forgot that Lorist wasn’t glued to the ground, including his Silver ranked opponent.

With but a simple step back and the two-handed sword barely scraping his clothes and landing on the ground, his left hand that held the longsword which had been knocked out of the way drew a beautiful arc in the air and lightly tapped on the Silver ranked instructor’s neck.

……

“Instructor Locke wins!” exclaimed Charade on the dueling platform.

Rattle! The Silver ranked instructor let his sword fall to the ground and gripped his face with both his hands in despair as he instantly broke into tears.

Disappointed jeers and words of praise initially sounded from the audience until gradually a round of applause slowly drowned the whole training hall. This was the audience’s show of respect towards Lorist who had managed to fight till the end without losing despite his injuries.

Academy Head Weston balled both his fists and stared at the dueling platform, stunned. From high spirits to despair, from the heavens to the earth. The sudden change in the outcome of the duel had left him unable to accept the reality of the situation. With both his eyes bloodshot and the veins on his forehead popping, he grumbled to himself, “How could this be… Why did you step back… How could you…”

The other Saint Marceau Academy instructors and assistant instructors wanted to calm their academy head down, but they were unsure of how he would react and only stare at him idly.

The Silver ranked instructor on the platform started to feel embarrassed for crying out loud in front of everyone and wiped his face before he left the venue without even picking up his sword. Little did he know that after he stepped down from the platform, chaos erupted behind him. Lorist could no longer hold on and instantly collapsed on the ground unconscious. A few of the Dawn Academy students rushed up to support him and called out in urgency before hurriedly sending him to the medical center.

This scene really shocked the Silver ranked challenger. Had he not listened to the academy head’s beckoning and continued to stall for time, he would have been the winner. His emotions started to spiral out of control again as he started bawling nonstop.

Academy Head Weston was also flabbergasted at seeing Lorist hauled to the medical center like that. It was so close, so close! If he didn’t attack, he would’ve won! The academy head only felt regret to the utmost and couldn’t catch his breath for a moment. In a fit of rage, he suddenly picked his chair up and swung it at the other chairs around him, causing the people around him to back away in fear.

Terman instructed the Enforcement Division members to not let anyone else into the the medical center before going to check on Lorist. As expected, the scene within was nothing short of chaos. Lorist was pulling at the blood-soaked bandage while screaming at Charade for putting a bag of chicken blood mixed with pig urine within his bandage in an attempt to make his ‘injuries’ look real. Initially, Lorist wasn’t that opposed to that idea and agreed to it himself.

While it did have its intended effect, the clotting chicken blood started to make his body feel itchy and uncomfortable to the point where he almost couldn’t hold his urges to scratch himself to relieve the itch. What the audience perceived as a pale, pained expression from Lorist was actually him resisting the excruciating itch caused by the clotted blood.

Lorist heaved a sigh of relief after giving his itch a good scratch when the bandage was finally undone. “It’s freaking itchy… I never knew that it was that frustrating… I almost wanted to let my opponent slash the itchy part when I was dueling just now.”

Terman brought over a basin with warm water and a linen cloth, twisted and scrubbed the clotting blood off Lorist’s body as he said, “That’s because the bandage was tied too tightly around your body so the blood clot turned into fine powder when it rubbed against your skin. It’s amazing you managed to hold on for so long throughout the duels.

“Then again, your performance during the last one was very convincing. Had I not known that you were actually not injured, I would really have thought that you wouldn’t be able to hold on. How did you think of taking a step back at a moment like that? Nobody expected you to suddenly turn the tables by simply retreating like that.”

“Hehe,” snickered Lorist. “During the last match, I managed to make the audience and my opponent think that I wasn’t able to move around by standing still in the same spot and defending for a long time as if I would collapse the moment I moved away. No matter how ferocious the attacks were, I stood there without moving intentionally for a period of time. That created the misconception that I wasn’t able to move away which also allowed me to find an opening in my opponent’s moves. In sword matches, it’s not just one’s swordsmanship that’s put to the test. The mind is also very important. The more crucial a moment is, the more important it is to have a clear head.”

Terman absorbed the words for a while and understood that Lorist was giving him some pointers. He sincerely said, “Thanks.”

When Charade came into the medical center, everyone else had their own cup of macks which was a gift from Academy Head Levins to Lorist for defeating the Saint Marceau Academy which took a huge load off the academy head’s back. However, the macks was ‘confiscated’ by Terman and the others who intended to get a piece of Lorist’s harvest while letting him do all the work.

“Good news, good news!” said Charade excitedly.

“What good news? Let’s hear it,” said Terman.

“Didn’t Lorist pretend to faint after being declared the winner? That shocked the Saint Marceau Academy Head greatly and cause the last Silver ranked instructor to crumble and cry on the dueling platform like a little child. Academy Head Weston flipped out and started flinging his chair around crazily and ended up collapsing after coughing out a mouthful of blood and his condition only managed to stabilize after receiving some emergency treatment. Academy Head Levins then consoled Academy Head Weston for his loss when he was in his carriage and even said that he would send the invoice for the chairs ruined from his outbreak to the Saint Marceau Academy, which once again caused Weston to spit out another mouthful of blood and lose consciousness. I heard that he would take at least half a year to recover from the shock, isn’t that great?”

“Tsk, it’s good news to that old fox but what does it have to do with us?” said Terman, annoyed.

Lorist finished his cup of macks and said to Charade, “I’ve already been here for almost an hour. It’s about time you sent me back.”

The group then strapped Lorist to the stretcher and hauled him back to his house in the Gold ranked instructor residential area.

Charade said, “Academy Head Levins decided that he would call the open duels tomorrow off to let the others believe that you are truly hurt and send some people to discuss with the other academies whether they are willing to postpone the duels to a later time. Even though the academies would surely deny that proposal, the old bastard said that we’d have to do that anyway to make your injuries more convincing.”

Lorist closed his eyes and enjoyed the feeling of being hauled back to his home while cursing, “Gosh, both of you are really damned foxes who absolutely relish in scheming…”

—————————————————————–

“Injury to the back of the head, Instructor Locke wins. The next challenger, please prepare for your turn,” announced Charade on the dueling platform.

For some reason, that particular challenger had his attention focused solely on Lorist’s longsword and aimed all of his strikes to it as if he wanted to break the weapon into half. Lorist intentionally exposed several of his openings to bait the opponent but the result was still the same. Lorist then threw his sword upwards and the challenger stupidly turned his head to look up a the sword and Lorist gave the back of his head a palm slap.

This guy really lost too hilariously, thought Charade as he struggled to stifle his laughter while he instructed the Enforcement Division members to carry the person down from the dueling platform. In a low voice, he said to Lorist, “The next challenger is the disciple of the Kalia Kingdom’s Sword Saint, Sandoz Hirda. Be careful, the several challengers before him had received orders to keep attacking you nonstop to drain you of your energy. He is also pretty quick with his sword…”

The young noble youth held a longsword sheathed in an ornate scabbard and got up the dueling platform. Standing in front of Lorist, he executed an elegant bow and said, “My dear Instructor Locke, I really didn’t expect that you would be able to continue fighting through all those duels and give this student of yours a chance to face you. It really is a shame that the injuries that you have incurred would not allow you to show the full extent of your abilities in our duel.”

Lorist merely waved the longsword in his hand as a gesture for him to stop talking and start the duel quickly.

However, the noble youth kept on standing there and continued. “Instructor Locke, the lesson you have imparted in me three years ago has left a really deep impression in my heart. During all these years, every timeI remembered the lesson you taught me, it has caused me to be unable to get a good night’s sleep. To repay you for the gracious lesson you have taught me, I have been training without rest, only to think that…”

“Cough, cough, cough…” Lorist really couldn’t bear it anymore and kept clearing his throat to stop that youth from continuing his long speech.”Um, your name was… Hir-whatchamacallit? Oh, Higuita, are you planning to keep on going until I can’t bear it anymore and surrender?”

“Sol, for the umpteenth time, his name is Sandoz Hirda. Seriously, can’t you even get his name right?” scolded Charade from beneath the dueling platform.

The noble youth named Sandoz Hirda’s face instantly reddened. Instructor Locke never once considered me a rival and even got my name wrong… And to think that I thought that I would be able to give him some pressure and ended up embarrassing myself instead…

Shing! Hirda drew his sword and said, ” Since it is going to be like this, then your student won’t hold back.”

The moment he stopped talking the sword flash came over fast as lightning.

Lorist focused his gaze and lashed out the longsword in his left hand. Clang, clang! Sounds of metal colliding rang out nonstop and within but a short moment, their swords had crossed more than 10 times.

The speed of Hirda’s sword was indeed fast, however he only used thrusts and flicks and didn’t really use any slashing or sweeping moves. While this way of fighting was certainly fast, it resulted in rigid swordplay. From Lorist’s dynamic vision, no matter how fast the sword could move, he could discern each and every strike without fail and parried all of them one after another.

Hirda gave it his all and the sword flashes surrounded Lorist’s silhouette like clusters of stars in the night sky.

To the audience spectating the duel, Lorist seemed like he was on a boat sailing amidst savage waves and one small mistake could easily topple it over and result in his demise.

However, to Hirda, Lorist still had lots of moves to pull as his own lightning fast attacks did not seem to pose much of a threat to Lorist. Every time his strike was about to land, Lorist would move ever so slightly and dodge his move by a hair’s breadth.

Hirda’s emotional state sunk lower and lower. Initially, he believed that his painstaking three years of training would allow him to easily cream Lorist, however Lorist’s abilities far surpassed what he could ever imagine. His expression turned colder as he thought, it seems it’s time to use that move. He stared at Lorist with a deathly gaze…

Hirda’s move suddenly changed from a thrust to a slash. Lorist moved his hand to parry the strike and waited for Hirda’s next attack in anticipation.

The challenger gave his wrist a flick and knocked the spine of his sword against Lorist’s blade. With a clear ring of metal breaking, Hirda’s longsword broke off from the hilt.

Lorist was stunned and thought, why did his sword suddenly pop off? Despite being without a blade, Hirda held the sword hilt up high and leaped towards Lorist.

What’s he planning to do now that his blade is gone? While Lorist was still struggling to comprehend that bizarre action, a ‘whoosh’ could be heard as a small bluish blade shot out from the hilt towards him…

Nobody could believe what was happening even though it transpired right before their eyes. The fact that Hirda’s sword hilt had a hidden poisoned blade within was completely unexpected.

Lorist instantly backed away. He could see the poison blade slowly approaching with his dynamic vision. Taking in a deep breath, Lorist tried his best to move his head as the blade flashed past an inch away from his face, letting out a pungent smell into his nostrils.

Bam! Consumed by anger, Lorist propped himself up and gave Hirda, who was elated at the thought of killing Lorist with the poison blade, a savage kick in the chest which sent him flying down from the dueling platform knocked out with blood flowing out of his mouth and nose. He then called Charade to remove the poison blade which was stuck firm onto the ground of the dueling platform.

Charade said, “Brother, that kick of yours was far too ruthless. Hirda’s sternum is completely shattered and even if he recovered, he would be a cripple who can no longer train his Battle Force.”

Lorist’s expression remained cold as ever. “Where’s the next challenger? Send him up quickly.”

……





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