"Milord, I really don't have the guts for this... The moment I stand in front of you, I lose all my will and energy to swing my sword. I don't usually feel this frightened even when facing a Blademaster like Pike. However, the moment I see you, I have the urge of dropping my sword and surrendering right away. I... I really don't know why I feel like this as well..." stammered Engelich.

Sol, this old man has had his balls burst from fighting against me that one time and wouldn't spar with me at all... Lorist lazily waved his hand and said, "Fine, you can leave."

The old man felt like he had been spared a death sentence and left hurriedly after saluting Lorist.

Currently, the most important thing on the list was handling Sloph and Blademaster Pike when they return ten days later. Lorist was confident that he would be able to take care of Gold ranked combatants, but he's never fought against a Blademaster before, so he still wasn't sure if he would be able to tough this hurdle through.

He recalled that time when we went to visit Instructor Claude back when he just broke through to the level of a Blademaster. Back then, Instructor Claude felt the increase in his abilities and confidently stated that should he fight against Lorist in a duel, it wouldn't end up like the last time on the island when Lorist managed to last more than 200 moves.

Even though Instructor Claude considered Lorist at the Iron rank of power, he was unaware of Lorist's cultivation at the peak of the Bright Stage when they were on the islands, not to mention that Lorist had already broken through into the Dark Stage by the time he made his visit, which would make it even harder for Instructor Claude to completely dominate him in battle. During the visit, Lorist asked Instructor Claude about the differences between a Three Star Gold Swordsman and a Blademaster.

Scratching his head in thought, Instructor Claude then took out a few cups and made a simple demonstration for Lorist. He first placed the smallest cup on the table and said that upon the awakening of Battle Force, it was as if the body had a vessel that was like that cup which could store and release Battle Force. He then took out a larger cup and said that if the smaller cup was the Bronze rank, then the larger one would be the Iron rank. Lorist nodded to signal his understanding.

Claude then placed two bowls, one large and the other small, on the table. He pointed at the smaller one and said that it represented the Silver rank while the larger represented the Gold rank. He then proceeded to explain that the difference between the various Battle Force ranks, Bronze, Iron, Silver and Gold, was a quantitative one rather than a qualitative one. For example, there wasn't a difference between the size of the blade glows at the Gold and Silver rank, but rather the amount of time the blade glows could be generated. An Iron rank could circulate their Battle Force for tens of minutes while a Gold rank would be able to easily reach one hour of Battle Force utilization.

That's why, it wasn't too surprising for an Iron rank to defeat a Gold rank if the difference in swordsmanship of the Iron rank makes up for the relatively lesser amount of time the Battle Force could be used. Claude then took out a large plate and said that it represented a Blademaster. According to him, Gold Swordsmen and Blademasters didn't differ much in terms of Battle Force capacity. For example, both the bowl and plate could contain the same amount of water as each other.

The main difference was that the area of coverage of the plate was far larger than that of the bowl. When one fights against a Gold Swordsman, as long as one stayed outside of the bowl, one wouldn't be affected much. However, during combat with a Blademaster, one would inevitably be within the range of the plate and each and every action would no doubt be restricted within that area of influence. Instructor Claude took the bowl that represented a Gold Swordsman, placed it on top of the plate and spun it around. The bowl moved around within the plate but not once did it move outside the range of the plate onto the table.

It was then when Lorist felt enlightened and fully comprehended what Instructor Claude was trying to express. The qualitative change that came from breaking through to the Blademaster level from the Gold rank was akin to having a three dimensional solid spreading its volume flat over a larger surface area. While the actual surface area of the object didn't change, the range of influence definitely increased.

"Then, how about Sword Saints?" Lorist asked.

"Hmm, I believe they will be like the table on which the bowls and plates are placed. This table is like a Sword Saint's domain and we are like the tables and plates on the table. No matter how we move around the table, we will still not be able to escape the influence of the domain," said Instructor Claude resignedly.

According to Instructor Claude's explanation, Lorist came to the conclusion that the difference between a Gold rank and a Blademaster was the field of influence they had. Instructor Claude added that when he sparred with his wife, Instructor Anfya, right after he broke through, no matter which direction or method she swung her sword, he seemed to have a precognitive instinct that allowed him to predict his wife's every move, even when she attempted to change her fighting approach entirely.

To Lorist, it sounded this ability of Blademasters was on the same level as his dynamic vision. However, that ability was not as specific as his own in that it only gave one a general 'feeling' instead of true visual feedback that his dynamic vision provided him. That was to say, a Blademaster would be able to predict the direction a strike was coming from and react to it, but Lorist could even perceive the velocity and force of any incoming object.

Engelich also said that he was confident in being able to withstand up to a hundred strikes when confronting Blademaster Pike. That's why Lorist wasn't that worried about being defeated by him and felt that they would arrive at a draw at most. Even so, that didn't mean that Lorist didn't intend to exploit the fact that he knew about a Blademaster's range of control that was far superior to that of a Gold rank. With a plan in mind, he decided to see whether his 'range of influence' was far superior to that of the Blademaster.

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Lorist stood at a balcony which was the highest one in the entire bastide that allowed one to oversee each and every corner of the place with absolute clarity. Rumor also said that this was Sloph's favorite hangout. Perhaps it was because it offered him a sense of control and domination over the whole area.

At the plaza opposite the main building, Dulles could be seen directing the twelve carroballistas around. Even though each only required three men to operate, Dulles had up to five people on one and cited that the larger chariots allowed for more people to be on board and the extra two could help with shielding the rest from enemy fire or stabbing enemies with halberds, thus effectively increasing the defensive and close combat capabilities of each unit. The extra people also allowed for the injured to switch out with someone else to retain the core functionality of the carroballistas, ensuring that their assault wouldn't be stopped halfway just because one or two men got injured from enemy resistance.

On a small hill not far from there was Terman and 13 other knights who were coaching their 28 Iron ranked attendants to remain within formation when they charged toward their enemies. 40 plus horses could be seen racing around the small hill, causing a cloud of dust to cover the whole area.

On the far end was an even larger vineyard plot which Potterfang had repurposed into a training field. The sight of 600 men who were equipped with black helmets, black plate armor as well as black shields standing within formation seemed like a large black beast from afar and gave others a feeling of danger and distress. Satisfied with the results of the training, Lorist felt that Potterfang was indeed perfect for the job given his military background. Within but a few days, he had managed to train the 600 men which constituted the heavy-armored battalion into tip top condition.

The slaves they had managed to liberate this time from the camp and the bastide numbered around 3000 and many of them were more than happy to join the armed forces. Other than a few who yearned to return to their homelands, all of the youths and their family members had decided to join the convoy on the journey. The total number of Iron ranks including the soldiers they had bought at Port Nupite was around 900 with 400 more being of the Bronze rank.

That was why Lorist had decided to reorganize the various types of units he had. Firstly, he increased the number of soldiers within the heavy-armored battalion from 500 to 600. After that was Dulles's carroballista unit which totaled around 65 people with 60 assigned to the 12 ballistas and the remaining five including Dulles acting as messenger troops which were in charge of relaying orders within the group for them to be able to effectively function as a unit.

And then there was Terman's knight brigade. While the number of knights didn't actually increase, the 28 attendants they recruited all had Three Star Iron ranked Battle Force. As for Yuriy, he had expanded his light cavalry scouts to 80 people who were each equipped with chain mail and leather armor and were given two mounts each. Other provisions included 24 javelins, one crossbow with 24 bolts, a scutum shield[1] and longsword as well as some makeshift tools such as nets or throwing axes which could be used as weapons according to their preferences. Even Potterfang was envious of the equipment the light cavalry scouts were getting; they were far better equipped than the troops of the Whitelion Legion back in the day.

Most of the soldiers who joined these army units were of the Iron rank with the remaining 100 or so were recruited by Els into the constable unit he led along with 7 other Silver Swordsmen who were forced into slavery from being threatened with their family members' lives. The rest of the Bronze ranks formed the basis of Mons Malek's 420-men-strong crossbowmen company with only a few Iron ranks and Bronze ranks joining Loze's pike infantry regiment. Loze complained that even though the unit he led was the largest, their actual combat potential was the weakest of them all. They were only equipped with pikes and leather armor and most garrison troops in other dominions were far better equipped than they were.

Lorist apologized for that and said that the main function of the pike infantry regiment was to maintain the order of the convoy during the journey and that the main force on the battlefield would be the heavy-armored battalion, the carroballista unit, the knight brigade and the light cavalry instead of them. The pike infantry regiment's participation was actually only limited to bolstering their numbers to make their fighting strength seem much higher than it actually was and to clear up the battlefield after each skirmish.

The original plan was for Engelich to be the officer in command of the pike infantry regiment as he had experience being a garrison officer back in his day. However, Lorist was worried that the old man wasn't completely loyal to him yet and decided to hold off giving him a position for a period of time while he observed his behavior and made sure of his intentions.

At present time, Yuriy had led his light cavalry scouts somewhere outside the bastide and their location was currently unknown. In the vineyard far away, volleys of arrows could be seen being fired as the training for the crossbowmen company was being conducted. On the walls of the bastide stood the members from the pike infantry regiment and the others who were not on wall guarding duty were split into small companies and were training under the instruction of their respective officers in charge.

Lorist's armed forces now numbered 2300 people with 3000 others being the family members of the soldiers. If the near 6000 people convoy were to depart for the north without any training or regulation, chaos and confusion would no doubt ensue. That was the main factor behind Lorist's decision to continue his stay at the Sloph Bastide for a couple more days before restarting the journey.

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That night, the injured Charade brought his maidservant Molise over to report the gains they had acquired during the recent days. Ever since occupying the Sloph Bastide, the main supervisor of the place was most reluctant to give out the location of the hidden treasuries. As a result, he was put onto the spinning chair before being spun around on the hollow rotor. After that, the old supervisor confessed the location of Sloph's two secret treasuries after he emptied the meals he had that day from his mouth, bladder and intestines uncontrollably.

The two treasuries increased their total assets by a staggering amount. The larger one was for the use of the bastide administration and it was filled with various coins from different currencies which amounted to around 50000 gold Fordes in value. The smaller one belonged to Sloph personally and the gold coins and gold Forde notes within totaled up to 70000 gold Fordes. The armor and equipment stored within the treasury was also distributed by Lorist to his knights whereas the other expensive items like rare paintings or treasures were kept just in case he would need them as a gift to improve his relationship with some other party in the future.

To sum it up, the convoy gained an extra 100000 plus gold Fordes, thus solving their financial bind at the moment. The other resources within the armories, taverns and food warehouses further replenished their resources. Els even personally suggested to Lorist that they resort to raiding bastides should they run low on resources in the future.

However, that was not all. When Lorist brought Engelich's box of gold coins to Charade, he realized a huge fact that he had neglected the whole time. Charade quickly got all the family members of the slavers and put them through the same process they did to the old supervisor of the bastide and had them confess the locations where they hid their gold and other valuables.

"Milord, after three days of searching and questioning, we have gathered around 30 to 40 thousand gold Fordes' worth of assets from the 300 plus households in the residential area as well as 7 high-ranked Battle Force manuals and some other treasures, which I have already handed to Shadekampf for safekeeping and sorting. The only remaining issue now concerns the treatment of the slavers' family members," reported Charade.

There wasn't a simple solution for that as they wouldn't be allowed to join the journey north nor could they be released scotch-free. There wasn't a doubt that they harbored seething hatred for Lorist's group for ruining their livelihoods. However, Lorist wasn't willing to kill them off as the ones who did wrong were their family members who joined the slavers rather than them. Even though they could also be considered partly responsible for the slaves' woes, they were not the main cause and thus didn't deserve the death sentence. A few days prior, Els suggested that the families of the slavers to be sold to slave traders so that they may have a taste of their own medicine.

However, Lorist was hesitant about that idea as there was no way that he could trade slaves after announcing that the Norton Family does not endorse slavery. Gosh, what a headache. I guess I'll figure something out later since there would be some time left before we leave, thought Lorist as he irresponsibly postponed the issue for another time and decided to temporarily detain the families of the slavers for the moment.

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A three-masted barque[2] flying the flag of the Sloph Slavers could be seen approaching Armatrin Harbor. This was Sloph's personal ship that he used for his excursions. As the crew of the ship were the locals of Armatrin Harbor, there wasn't a need for them to use a guide to navigate shallow waters.

"The harbor is much deserted than usual. There's not even a shadow in sight," Sloph said to Blademaster Pike who was standing beside him. Sloph's figure had bloated up like a barrel after two years of nothing but indulgence.

"Well, you should be aware that the people of the town use your name to scare their children into obedience or face the consequences of being caught and sold by you. It isn't weird for there to be nobody at the harbor if you consider that fact." Blademaster Pike was an aged man of tall build who usually wore an expression of pride and arrogance.

"Hehe, I guess that's true. Then again, I suppose it's a good thing to be feared. If I show a little bit of kindness, that might come of as a sign of weakness in these lowly folks' eyes and they'll start to think of ways to weasel more benefits from me. It's better to have them fear and revere me and not cause me any trouble," said Sloph, snickering as he shared his experience in dealing with people with his cousin.

As the barque docked at the harbor, the sailors on the ship jumped off and tied several ropes around the stakes at the harbor before placing a walking board as a makeshift bridge. Sloph and the Blademaster got off the ship with twenty other sailors who hauled large chests following behind them.

Sloph looked around the harbor and started cursing vilely. "Did I leave for too long this time around? Those bastards at the bastide should be coming here to receive me by now! I'll make sure to give them a lesson that they'll never forget when I get back."

At that moment, Blademaster Pike inspected the surroundings and his expression tensed up. "Be careful, something doesn't feel right......"

The sound of a pair of hands clapping could be heard as Lorist approached the harbor followed by Reidy and Patt who were each carrying three quivers of javelins in their hands.

"Who are you?" asked Blademaster Pike as he narrowed his eyes to stare at Lorist with the sharp gaze of a hawk.

Ignoring him, Lorist continued to clap and 600 heavy-armored soldiers who carried black diamond-shaped shields in their hands showed up behind him and surrounded the harbor. After that, 400-odd other crossbowmen appeared behind the ranks of the shield-wielding soldiers.

If the heavy-armored battalion had not shaken the Blademaster, the crossbowmen definitely did. The400 crossbow-wielding soldiers would without question be a serious threat to even a Blademaster like Pike.

"Who are you and what are you up to?" shouted the Blademaster. The fat slob who stood beside him had a pale look on his face. Sloph retreated behind two of his chain-mail-wearing men and revealed a fierce expression.

"My identity is of no importance. What you need to know instead is that I intend to take your lives," answered Lorist calmly with a tone full of confidence.

"If you want my life, you'll need to be capable enough to take it," said Blademaster Pike as he drew his sword from his scabbard.

Lorist waved his hand and the twangs of hundreds of bowstrings could be heard. Within but an instant, more than 400 arrows were airborne and headed towards Sloph's group......

The sword in the Blademaster's hand danced frantically, shattering many of the arrows that came its way......

The rain of arrows stopped and Blademaster Pike looked extremely haggard. However, not one injury could be seen on his body and it was apparent that he had managed to deflect all of the arrows that threatened to harm him.

Taking advantage of the crossbowmen who were reloading, Blademaster Pike let out a loud grunt and dashed towards Lorist with near-lightning speed......

As the two were only twenty meters apart, Lorist smiled coldly and took out a javelin from the quiver......

The sharp sound of the javelin being shot out at breakneck velocity reverberated throughout the area. The javelin's velocity caused the Blademaster to be unable to avoid it and be forced to deflect it head on......

Bam! The javelin was shattered into smithereens with the Blademaster staggering a few steps back from the force of the impact. His expression instantly changed as he had never felt a javelin thrown with that much energy. However, before he managed to complete that thought, Lorist sent a fusillade of javelins in his direction.

Bam! Bam! Bam! Series of sounds of javelins being smashed apart could be heard as the Blademaster was forced to retreat from the successive impacts of the javelin......

"Agh!" Cried the Blademaster in agony.

"Ugh," grunted the Blademaster with much suffering.

After all six quivers of javelins was expended, Lorist exhaled loudly with his face flush red and his hands and legs relaxing from having used all that energy. He had launched 72 javelins packed with his internal energy in quick succession and that has sapped up most of his energy reserves and left him in a difficult position. He made a mental note to not perform this kind of feat ever again so that he would have enough stamina for emergency situations.

While Blademaster Pike was still alive, a large javelin had found its way through his thigh and another could be seen infused within his right shoulder. The most serious injury came from the javelin that hit his torso and went straight through his body and reemerged from his back. For him to be able to block off the 69 other javelins was already testament to his abilities as a Blademaster. It was too bad that he wasn't able to do the same to the remaining three.

"You... You didn't give me a chance to utilize my skills......" grumbled the Blademaster as blood flowed out of his mouth.

"I'm not stupid enough to fight you head on. That's far too risky and dangerous." Even though the Blademaster's voice was exceedingly soft, Lorist heard it clearly and waved once more to signal the crossbowmen to fire. The Blademaster ended up looking like a huge porcupine by the time the arrows stopped flying.

As for Sloph and his other followers, they had long perished from the first volley of arrows and died miserable deaths.

"Clear up the battlefield and occupy the ship. Also, cut off Sloph and Blademaster Pike's heads and bring them with us," instructed Lorist.


[1] A long rectangular shield usually wore on an arm. See: Wikipedia.
[2] A classification of boats. See: Wikipedia.





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