Impetus was something in which every fighter had to train. Just like magic, magi with higher magic stratum would have more enthymema. As a result, they could release scarier and higher-leveled spells. In other words, one trained one's mind and brain to improve one's magic and enthymema, while one had to train one's body to improve one's impetus. One's impetus stratum manifested most obviously in a person's strength, speed, and reaction time, which improved in accordance with one's stratum. While Leguna looked to be rather slender, he would totally trump a well-built man that didn't have impetus.
Orwen was well aware of Kurdak's might. While he appeared relaxed to others even after being challenged to a duel, he hadn't dared to slack off on his training in the past two days either. And, much to his good fortune, Orwen -- who was already on the brink of a breakthrough -- actually managed to surpass the bottleneck due to the intensive training he'd undertaken and successfully made it to the tenth stratum.
While it was only the difference of one stratum, it was enough for the slightest mistake to change the whole course of battle, especially for experienced fighters like the of them. Orwen's boosted speed and strength afforded him a huge advantage.
Though Orwen had been put under huge pressure from Kurdak's flurry of attacks and wasn't able to unleash his speed to its full potential, he managed to secure an opportunity to widen the distance between the two. Naturally, he didn't waste the chance and hurriedly launched his counterattack after adjusting his posture. The longsword deflected the force of Kurdak's slash, allowing him to sneak to his opponent's left flank and thrust the venomous, snake-like dagger he held in his left hand at Kurdak's waist.
"Hurgh!" roared Kurdak as his ninth-stratum impetus exploded.
While Orwen was rather resilient, even he wasn't able to withstand the sudden burst and was blown back.
While Kurdak managed to escape the fate of being impaled thanks to his impetus burst, he wasn't able to stop the impetus blade formed on Orwen's dagger. He felt a wave of pain from his waist. Not intending to give up his hard-found chance, Orwen kicked his legs the moment touched the ground and relied on his high speed to entangle himself with Kurdak.
What do we do now? Why has Orwen suddenly become a tenth stratum fighter? The situation looks pretty grim for Boss! thought Leguna as he watched the bloodbath.
"Don't panic, even if Orwen's impetus is higher than Kurdak's, he's still only an assassin and won't have too much of an advantage in a face-to-face fight. Kurdak's not losing just yet," said Vera, but her worried expression betrayed her attempt to seem calm.
"He won't lose," said a crystal-clear voice amidst the crowded chatter.
"Annie? You're here too?"
Leguna scratched his head in confusion when he realized Annelotte had appeared next to him without him noticing.
"Annie, do you have any idea what we should do?" asked Vera urgently the moment she saw the girl.
Even though she wasn't older than her, Vera was hopeful she had something up her sleeves given how powerful she was.
Annelotte shook her head.
"He won't lose," repeated she coldly.
Annelotte had already given Kurdak all the information she had on his opponent. Even with Orwen having broken through to the tenth stratum without anyone noticing, Kurdak could still make up for the disadvantage in raw strength with the detailed information he obtained. If he still couldn't best Orwen despite these circumstances, Annelotte would truly begin to doubt her party leader's abilities.
As expected, Orwen managed to gain a slight advantage by capitalizing on his speed in the beginning and put lots of pressure on Kurdak. However, Kurdak was an experienced mercenary who'd seen his fair share of battles. He got used to the quickened pace in a relatively short time before he relied on his precise movements to reclaim the advantage he lost. The odds between the two were rather balanced right now.
Orwen never would've imagined Kurdak understood his moves so well. While his sudden burst of speed did push the battle in his favor, Kurdak managed to adjust and make the best decisions to counter his assault on the heat of battle and stabilize the situation. If the fight continued, Orwen would be unable to tough his way through a brute like Kurdak. Seeing that attacking ferociously wasn't doing him much good, Orwen brought out his trump card. He took out two smoke pellets from the back of his belt and smashed them on the ground.
They were made by Moonshadow's armory. While they were not poisonous and didn't affect one's breathing, the thick smoke was still exceedingly useful for obscuring sight. According to the armory's tests, a human would only be able to see roughly two meters ahead when enveloped by the smoke. Some could only see one meter ahead. But due to their expensive ingredients, they were sold for one gold coin even at a discounted price for inner circle members of the guild. It was why Orwen prepared some of them just in case but didn't really intend to use them if he didn't have to. He only did so after he was forced into a corner.
The thick smoke spread all over in an instant. Kurdak felt as if the world around him faded into nothing but white. However, he did not rush to get out as he understood that acting rashly while unable to see was akin to committing suicide.
Fighting blind: that was one of the tactics in which Orwen was most confident. He had spent a huge fortune in Moonshadow to learn a secret art that would allow him to detect the enemy's position without his eyes.
Even though he couldn't accurately detect every of his target's movements, being able to know the other's position when both were unable to rely on their sight was already an incredible edge.
"I wonder how Boss is doing," murmured Leguna, worried.
He had read about some tips when it came to fighting blind from Wayerliss's notebook, but he wasn't aware whether Kurdak knew them or not.
"Don't worry. Kurdak isn't someone to die that easily," consoled Vera once more.
However, she couldn't help but glance at Annelotte as she said that, seemingly wanting to hear something else to support her words.
Annelotte retained her usual calm and didn't express the slightest panic at Kurdak's predicament. Instead, she was assured Kurdak would win the moment Orwen used his smoke pellets. That was due to the fact that one of the points she highlighted in the information she gave Kurdak was Orwen's ability to fight blind. She believed he'd already made more than enough preparations to deal with this situation.
At that moment, Kurdak closed both his eyes. He knew keeping his cool was even more important given the danger he was in. He focused all his attention on his ears instead. While attacking without making a sound was one of an assassin's main skills, Kurdak didn't believe that Orwen would be able to give him a fatal blow without triggering any of his senses.
The crowd's chatter began to quiet down as they held their breaths. The sudden change in the duel's tempo caused them to feel uneasy and anxious.
Kurdak furrowed his brow in intense focus. He felt as if he had entered a trance-like state. His strong heartbeat was all the more audible in the silence. He could also hear a distant whisper as if someone from the audience was talking in a hushed voice. All of a sudden, a faint sound of air being pushed away entered Kurdak's ears.
Behind him on the right!
"Aaargh!" roared Kurdak explosively all of a sudden as the impetus exploded from his body once more, forming a sound wave that spread out in all directions with him at its core.
Battle Cry was the trump card Kurdak had been leaving for the crucial moment. It wasn't a complicated application of impetus. The user only had to focus their impetus in their lungs and release it in a loud shout.
However, due to the huge force required for the sound waves emitted to cause actual damage, only high-order warriors would use the skill like that. Despite that, Kurdak was able to rely on his huge physique and large impetus pool to pull it off. He had already mastered the use of the skill back when he was only in the seventh stratum.
Vera and the others looked tensely at the fog in a futile attempt to see what was happening within.
All of a sudden, that ear-piercing roar resounded from within the smoke. Vera's heart skipped a bit when she recognized Kurdak's Battle Cry. She knew how much it strained Kurdak to use that skill, so if he didn't obtain victory soon after using it, then he might not have another chance to turn the tables of the fight.
Before a second elapsed after the roar, a figure rushed out from the smoke in a haggard manner. When Leguna and Vera saw who that figure was, they let out sighs of relief.
That man with shoulder-length hair was none other than Orwen. It could be seen that Kurdak still held the advantage even after being forced to fight blind.
Orwen wore an expression of disbelief when he emerged from the smoke. Kurdak's Battle Cry had caused his mind to fall into disarray, and within that short span of a second, the kick Kurdak thrust without hesitation into Orwen's chest sent the latter flying out of the smoke.
Kurdak's use of Battle Cry had already been far out of Orwen's expectations. But he was even more surprised by the fact that Kurdak was able to focus his attention to pinpoint his own location within the smoke. When it came to fighting experience, his understanding on his opponent, and his mental fortitude, Kurdak was far superior to Orwen in all respects, causing Orwen to realize that he had made a wrong choice to antagonize Kurdak.
However, it was already far too late, because Kurdak's razor-sharp two-handed sword had already been placed against Orwen's neck. It was the cold touch of the blade that caused Orwen to accept the reality of the situation.
Kurdak appeared to be breathing heavily; it seemed that the use of Battle Cry taxed him quite a lot.
While that skill expended lots of impetus in one go, it didn't cause that much damage to begin with. Its only benefit lied in its ability to be able to cause an opponent to fall into a short period of mental disorientation following exposure to the amplified sound waves.
Had it not been for the kick Kurdak dealt Orwen, the assassin wouldn't have ended up that badly injured just from being hit by Battle Cry.
That was the reason Kurdak used up all his strength in that kick of his that shattered Orwen's sternum. While he had used up all his remaining energy, he managed to subdue Orwen in the end.
A troubled look flashed past Kurdak's face as he raised his two-handed sword gradually from Orwen's neck.
"I'll spare you today. Scram. I don't want to see you in front of me again in the future," said Kurdak as he glanced mockingly at Orwen before turning to leave.
Orwen coughed out two mouthfuls of blood as he looked at Kurdak's retreating silhouette. He stood up gradually, and just when the audience thought that Orwen would make his disgraceful exit, the assassin quickened his steps forward and pushed his dagger into Kurdak's back when the latter was unable to respond.
"You... sparing my life? Do you think you can afford to do that?" hissed Orwen by Kurdak's ear as he wiped the blood at the corner of his mouth.
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