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FireHeart Highlights!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

3.1.1. Chapter One - Orcbane: In the Shade of the Moon

CHAPTER ONE
ORCBANE:
IN THE SHADE OF THE MOON


‘A monster is not judged by its size and ferociousness, but by the devastation
it brought.’
-
Sage the
Fireheart

Founder, Fireheart Hunters’ Guild
First Emperor of Arcadia



An Oddjob and an Orcjob


A boy runs in a hurry along the narrow streets of Rand. He bumps into people and tramples mud puddles along the way, leaving people cursing and yelling behind him – some even check their tunic to look whether the boy has stolen their purses or anything valuable. The streets are real crowded here in Rand – as the city in the kingdom of Lore becomes a center of economy and culture. Thanks to the hunters and the hunters’ guild, the risk of monsters and bandits’ attacks has been lessened – at least less than other major cities in Lore: Varestine, Wagnerport even the capital, Alceste. Merchants, caravans and travelers usually hire hunters as escorts, unless, perhaps they are well-skilled, well-armed and can defend themselves or hire personal bodyguards.
The boy ignores all the curses and yells upon him, and runs along several blocks until he enters a shabby-looking tavern with a yellowish ram with the text ‘The Golden Ram’ badly carved on a signboard hanging in front. The Golden Ram is the cheapest, shabbiest and dirtiest tavern-inn in Rand. The wine and ale there are bad, but it is always full of rowdy, strange and suspicious people with their own strange, shady businesses – gambling, brawling, having fun with tavern maidens, and even talking in low voices. Well, secret talks in loud voices can be made in here too, as it’s too loud there – rest assured your talks won’t be heard by the neighbor at the next table.
The boy looks around desperately, and once in a while ducks to avoid flying objects like wooden mugs, stones – fortunately no sharp ones, though. After a while, he finally notices someone and comes to a group of people gambling on a corner. They are shouting in frustration or muttering things like ‘Damn, he won again!’ and all sorts of curses. One of them – a man with silvery, unkempt hair - doesn’t yell, though and coolly extends his hands to collect the crowns (gold coins), florins (silver coins) and zennies (bronze coins) on the table and pour them all into his purse. Although he apparently is the winner, he doesn’t smile. He only stare cautiously around him, readies himself as though anticipating something bad. And it happens. One of the gamblers, an ugly, fat, unshaven and badly dressed man gets up, bangs on the table and puts his one foot on the chair, screaming.
‘You CHEATED! Bloody cheater!’
The two other gamblers are puzzled for a while, staring at him – but they instantly understand, and scream along to support him.
‘Yeah! Winning seven times already! That’s impossible!’
‘Must be sumthin’ behind ‘ees hands!’
‘And he ain’t even smile all the time! Mus’ be afraid he’s gonna be found out!’
‘Thrash ‘im!’
‘Search him! Make him return our money!’
The cool silver-haired guy raises his face. He is handsome, although his face is sallow and looks somewhat feminine, but his calm, serious and cautious behavior gives an air of someone who has endured great hardships, tragedies and traumas. He always wears a leather breastplate in front of his shirt, and always ready with a kiliji (a curved long sword) neatly hung inside its scabbard under his shabby blue hood and robe. The boy recognizes him perfectly at once, and is about to call him, but the silver-haired man notices the boy and signals him to keep quiet and keep away.
‘Hey, won’ speak a word, eeh? No reveal your secret!?’
‘Maybe you will talk after we rearrange your pretty face!’
‘O’ you hungree? Wanna eat? Here, taste THIS!’
The bald man launches his knuckle sandwich towards the silver-haired man’s mouth, but the silver-haired man simply moves his head aside with great reflexes and avoids the hit altogether. He gets up, and is ready for the next attack.
One thought comes into the silver-haired man’s mind:
Even if I speak, these stupid brutes won’t listen – they just want to rob my winnings. Well, it’s time to show them who I really am, as Pear is already here…
To avoid revealing too much of him, the silver-haired man avoids most of the attacks using knuckles, knifes and a wooden chair, and finally counterattacks, catching the bald man’s punch and kicks him straight on his jaw, sending him flying backwards and falls crashing on the wall, knocking him out. The fat guy and the one-eyed scarface are astonished to see this display of strength, but thinking that it was only a lucky strike they attack the silver-haired guy altogether. The scarface’s attack misses, but the fat guy successfully hit the silver-haired guy’s shoulder as he is avoiding the scarface. But the silver-haired man’s expression doesn’t even change in pain, instead he ducks and sweep-kicks the fat guy’s feet, causing the fat guy to fall tumbling on the floor.
The one-eyed, badly-scarred man thinks. Damn! He’s too strong! I must get outta here!
And he runs away at once.
The fat guy tries to get up although he is irritated with his friend’s cowardly behavior. But the silver-haired man doesn’t waste time and instantly draws his kiliji and points it directly to the fat guy’s throat. Then he finally speaks.
‘Get out now. I only kill monsters and bandits, unless you are one of them.’
The fat guy whimpers, ‘Ah, you’re a hunter?’
A tavern guest cuts in.
‘You’re new in town, heh? He’s a hell of a hunter, you know.’
The little boy named Pear speaks, ‘Mister Orcbane?’
The silver-haired man replies, ‘Sssh, I’ve told you many times, just call me Robert.’
‘Aw, it’s easier to remember you as Orcbane, as it is so frequently said at the guild.’
‘Ah, Pear, now you’ve done it.’
Robert the Orcbane then talks to the fat man with a threatening tone.
‘Well, what will it be now? Still want to rob my money?’
‘Your money WHAT? You must be cheated, I can tell’.
‘I didn’t cheat.’
‘Then how come you won seven times and only lost twice?’
‘’Twas a dice game, right? Maybe you must learn about concentration *). Focus your mind and eye on the dice movements. Well, you must train them hard, because I got that kind of training once as a soldier and a scout in the Lore-Arcadia war.’

(* Concentration = What Robert means is Eagle’s Eye – the ability to notice very quickly or even the slightest movement from the objects from any distance. Besides training, one must have the talent – that is very uncommon among humans. An Eagle’s Eye expert is usually a good scout or spy. Robert has that talent.)

‘Damn, you’re a soldier! Then why did you lose twice?’
‘Even fools can guess that. I deliberately let you guys win so you won’t suspect me using concentration and you won’t want to gamble with me anymore. I know you guys are new in town because none of my old mates want to gamble with me again. I need to earn pocket money, you know as there is no orc to hunt…’
Suddenly Pear remembers something and cuts in.
‘Excuse me, Sir Orcbane, but now there is’.
‘It’s Robert, Pear, Robert.’
‘Yeah, Robert… Robert…’
‘Wait.. you said there’s an orc-job at the guild?’
‘Yessirah.’
‘Let’s go there! Here, Gumbold, for the food, ale and for the damage too’
Robert tosses several florins and zennies to Gumbold the tavern-innkeeper’s table, and a crown to the fat guy.
‘Here’s for you. No hard feelings mate. Treat your friends too.’
The fat guy doesn’t believe his eyes and ears. He is still sitting on the floor, astonished as he sees Robert and Pear rushing out from The Golden Ram tavern-inn.



The One Job No One Wants


Robert and Pear arrive at the Hunters’ Guild in Rand. It’s a fairly large building with a banner bearing a cross-lining between a snake and a sword, as though the snake is pierced by the sword. All Hunters’ Guilds in all regions of Lore use this symbol to show the wide network and excellent management system they have. So it is possible that several jobs can come from other cities – but those sorts of jobs must be the difficult ones that require extra skill and experience that are few among the hunters in the job commissioner’s region.
Many hunters of different sorts: swordsmen, warriors, assassins, archers and mages; men and women are there – it seems that the hunting job attracts more talented people than being a soldier, a mercenary, a bodyguard or even a thug. Some even wear clean robes and shiny armors – to show that they are distinguished hunters that are more trustworthy than the shabby ones. Of course, most of them crowd near job posters hanging on walls and message boards, and queue near job counters. The clerks are usually fine maidens with attractive uniforms – another proof of the excellent management of the guild.
Pear guides Robert to a poster on the right wall – the one that no hunters are seen around it. It bears a poorly drawn picture of an orc’s face, and Robert sees the notice:


WANTED
A’bong the Orc
DEAD

200 Crowns
Extra 50 Florins for every kobold’s head in A’bong’s gang

For crimes against the kingdom
Banditry, Robbery, Murder



Robert reacts, ‘Well, it seems the reward is slightly higher than usual.’
A voice comes from behind.
‘That’s because this is not any stray Gremion orc or common ones – this guy is intelligent. He can even round up kobolds and lead a band. Of course the reward is fitting.’
Robert turns around to see the speaker – Hulferd, the Guild Master. Hulferd is a 43-years old man with beautifully-trimmed moustache and beard, and well-built. Traces of his handsome face can still be found on him. It seems that he is a former well known hunter and now runs his own guild. Robert greets him in his usual, cold but polite manner.
‘Good afternoon, Sir Hulferd.’
‘So, are you interested, Rob? I got the details right here.’
‘You don’t have to ask me that. Just tell me the details straightaway.’
‘Hahaha, don’t be like that, Rob, my friend. You know I always remember you every time I get jobs like this. It’s just no other hunters here ever want to take orc-hunting jobs. They think it’s too risky and dangerous for them, and I don’t have to send the posters to other cities when you’re around.’
‘And I specialize in orcs, highly dangerous monsters, and bandits.’
‘Right. Well then, shall we move to a quiet place for a quick briefing?’
‘Okay.’
Then Robert takes out three zennies and hands them to Pear, touching his head affectionately as though Pear is Robert’s own son.
‘Here, Pear. Now stay out of trouble. There are so much bandits and monsters around with these many posters. Don’t let your parents worried.’
‘I will, sir. Thank you, sir.’
Pear walks away joyfully. Robert and Hulferd walk to the office rooms in the second floor.

==oOo==

The second floor consists of several office cabins and Hulferd’s own compartments. Hulferd enters a room – his office. Robert follows him in, and inside he sees a simple table with three chairs, with piles of parchments stored in racks. The wall is full of job posters – almost all with ‘X’ in a ‘O’ stamps that signifies that the jobs are complete. Robert takes notice of a new, unstamped poster with a picture of a fearsome, mysterious looking assassin on it and asks Hulferd.
‘Hulferd, who is the guy in that poster? Why didn’t you put it on the boards?’
‘Oh boy, haven’t you heard, Rob? Tsk, tsk, a person by your trade…’
‘Well, I’m not actually THAT sociable, you know.’
‘Hahaha… By the way, that guy is called MacLair. Oliver MacLair, a rogue assassin. He has killed several high-rank officials in Wardstone, not to mention the prime minister’s daughter, rest her soul. Who hired him, we don’t know. And it’s not quite an accurate drawing either. He moves real damn quick so none of the “survivors” can see his actual looks – and he seldom leaves any “witnesses”. If anyone tries to chase him or even takes a glimpse of his face – that guy will end up dead before he can even blink. And I’m damn sure that none of the hunters here can match him…’
‘… Even me?’
‘… Even you. Don’t get insulted – that’s for your own good. It takes someone who can match his speed to take him down. The poster was sent to me a fortnight ago from the capital, and I decided to keep it down low until I have a chance to meet Kyflynn.’
Robert is curious. ‘Kyflynn?’
‘A night elf assassin – don’t tell me you don’t know him too.’
‘Only by reputation. I once overheard people talking in the tavern about the assassin who never killed good people – only monsters and criminals. And his speed is legendary too.’
‘Yeah. I believe he’s the only one who can match MacLair. Ah, shall we get on the business now?’
‘Go on.’
Hulferd moistens his lips then talks on.
‘Now this A’bong and his kobold gang are nomads, they came here about three months ago and they raid villages, caravans and ambush travellers – kill and pillage like bandits do. Only bandits sometimes spare people’s lives so they can rob them again in the future. By the way, our spies have found their lair in the cave in the West Harper Hills. Here’s a copy of the map, and you can find the location accurately drawn in it. A’bong uses a broad battle axe and well-armoured – I think he’s a veteran from The Gremion Wars that deserted his army after Gremion was forced to share its territory with Bresconnor. And the kobolds are eight – two large ones and six small ones – including two females.’
Hulferd pauses for a while, staring at Robert with concern. Then he sighs.
‘I know you always get excited when it comes to orcs, but as your friend and mentor I warn you – be extra careful this time. A’bong is not an ordinary orc. He is intelligent and has leadership qualities – real different than the orcs you hunted all these times. I think he used to be a captain or even a general. Better take a party with you along, don’t act alone.’
Robert replies in a calm, polite voice.
‘I understand, teacher. You always have been my helper and guide since I’m a greenhorn and only a bit skilled in the battlefield. You even saved my life several times. You taught me your sword moves and treated me like your son. I will never forget that.
But as always, I work alone. I always had this difficulty to deal with people, you know. And I bet no one will join me even though I tell them to handle the kobolds only and let me deal with the orc. For this once, teacher, let me handle this alone. If I can’t overcome this difficulty, I will never improve and I will be no different than others who only content themselves hunting jelly slugs, petty monsters and petty bandits.’
‘I see. But you surely won’t mind if I send one of my spies to keep an eye of you, so he can collect the heads and the proofs of your work – standard guild procedure.’
Robert nods. It seems that he doesn’t mind at all, because the guild usually send novice hunters as spies – an extra job – to learn from the experienced ones. Robert used to be a spy to assist Hulferd these three years.
Then Hulferd’s wife, Charlotte comes in. She’s 39, a plump lady but still pretty. Although never experienced real education, she has a keen judgment and a kind heart. She has two kids, Helen, 16, quite pretty just like her, and her younger brother, Pearce, 10 years old. Apparently Pearce is the same Pear that called Robert earlier. Pear has great intuition and a keen sense upon anything, just like his mother and great determination to improve himself just like his father. No wonder he immediately searched for Robert as he saw the poster before his father told him not to. Maybe someday he can become a great hunter just like his father.
Charlotte greets Robert enthusiastically – she also wants Robert to marry Helen someday, but apparently Helen already has a lover somewhere… and Robert too…
‘Oh, Robert! What a surprise!’
‘Good day, ma’am. Long time no see.’
‘A long time, indeed. Two months! Where have you been? Helen has been asking for you.’
Robert snorts and shows his rare, cold smile. How can that be, he thinks. Helen already has Albert, the bookworm. She must be in the library with him now. She is only interested in poetry and writing, and Robert doesn’t even have an interest in it – or even in her.
‘Really? Tell her I said hello. Oh yes, about Pear, just tell him to stay out of trouble. I’ve been staying in the tavern these days, and it’s getting rowdier each and every day.’
‘WHAT? Ah, Pear! That overactive son of yours, Ferdy. Give him a word or two once in a while, will you? What kind of father are you, letting him prowling around, huh?’
‘Aw, honey, don’t be like that. Just let him taste a bit of the real world, it’s good for him. He’s smart, and I’m sure he will be a good hunter one day, just like dear Rob here. Anyway I’m too busy with the guild and things…’
‘But at least a warning, so he can learn to be cautious – like dear Rob here.’
‘…. Perhaps too cautious.’
‘… Or too rash.’
Charlotte and Hulferd stare at Robert at the corner of their eyes with their strange faces. Robert stares at them with a puzzled face. He replies…
‘Hey, hey, don’t get angry, old fellas. I promise you I will keep an eye on Pear whenever I’m not at a job. Is that okay with you?’
Hulferd lands a slow jab on Robert’s shoulder.
‘Now that’s the spirit. Don’t let your cool hides who you really are.’
But THIS is who I REALLY am, Robert thinks.
Charlotte is not satisfied yet with Robert’s answer, and contorts…
‘And MOVE OUT from that smelly, flea-ridden Golden Ram Inn! And buy yourself a REAL house! I don’t want to see Pear play with you in that god-forsaken place every day! Gambling? Vadis forbids!’
Robert replies, ‘I’ll work something out, ma’am. I will.’
But a different thought comes into Robert’s mind.
Aw, we hunters still have to eat when there’s no job. And honest jobs will keep us out of monster-hunting. And I don’t have enough money to buy a proper house, either. Later, ma’am. Much later.
Charlotte snorts. She knows her bidding won’t be fulfilled in the near future, knowing very well of the hunters’ nature – namely her husband’s. But she finally resigns and goes to the kitchen to make some tea for Robert, Hulferd and herself.
‘All right then. Don’t leave yet, Robert. I still want to talk to you over a cup of tea.’
Robert nods. Although he knows that a talk with ‘Chatty’ Charlotte will be a boring one, but their kindness tops over anything in the world for him so he compels himself to stay a little longer – preparing his spirit for the most difficult job he has taken until now… with some pep talks and a healthy cup of tea.



Into Danger’s Den


A shadow moves quickly in the dark, in the shade of moonlight. It also moves cautiously and stealthily, so no enemy might spot him and it can attack them in a surprise. Then Robert the Orcbane, the hunter arrives in front of the cave in the West Harper Hills. He hides and tries to recall his plan again before going in for a surprise attack.
No guards at the front… Suppose the map is right. But I never know, right? I must be ready for all risks and possibilities. Maybe they have already expected a hunter to come and prepared an ambush. A’bong was a veteran captain. I was only a scout. I have no idea what kind of ambushes they will be preparing and how to tackle them. I only participated in one war – so I only know standard ones and no orcish types. Pity Hulferd has resigned, he must be able to give me a few more pointers. Ah, throw away those negative thoughts. I must overcome this by myself – if I ever want to improve. Vadis, help me.
Then he clasps his hand and prays like a true Vadisian devout, and then he kisses the ring on his left little finger. He’s now ready.
Okay, here goes nothing.
Robert enters the narrow cave with a torch in his left hand and his trusted Kiliji in his right hand. He walks along, and sees some light from afar. Now he is convinced that someone is indeed there and camps inside the cave.
I’m in luck. They’re here – or whatever it is.
He walks on, and the cave is getting wider with stalactites and stalagmites on his way – he’s going underground. He sees some torches hung on the cavern posts, and draws the conclusion that the orc can lead his gang as well as humans do and he becomes more alert.
As he walks on, he smells something strange. And the air around him moves like a soft breeze. He raises his kiliji. Suddenly two pairs of eyes are shown on his left and right, and two kobolds pounce on him. Calmly, without looking, Robert moves right and slashes his kiliji to the upper right, and cuts through the kobold on his right on its gut. Kobold blood showers and splatters on his hair and armor. He successfully avoids the kobold on his left. Without wasting any time, he attacks the kobold. The kobold blocks Robert’s attacks with its sword – but Robert’s attack is getting quicker and comes from different angles and variants, the kobold gets overwhelmed and finally Robert pierces its chest. Before it dies, the kobold lets out a loud, long howl as an alarm to warn its comrades.
Robert thinks, So much for the surprise. I better think of another plan quick.
He thinks as he runs on forward, hoping to reach A’bong and the remaining six kobolds before they even realize what the alarm means. But it’s still a long way to the center and Robert hears angry kobold barking sounds not far from there. So he decides to drop the plan and head back. On the way, an idea comes into him.
Why don’t I use their tactic against them? Hiding behind the dark parts will be good. I’ll use my ‘concentration’ and attack them in the dark.
Robert deliberately puts off the torches – except the ones near the narrow exit - and hides behind a post just like the kobolds did. Then the six kobolds arrive, running in frenzy. They realize that two of their comrades have been slain, by sniffing the blood and the kobold carcasses. And they howl in fury, especially the two female kobolds – because all the males are their mates. Robert sees that this is a perfect opportunity to attack – but he retracts himself as he hears a loud yell.
‘HALT! On guard, you hound ‘n bitches! Something’s odd here!’
Robert sees A’bong the orcish captain’s silhouette appears from the light of the torch from the exit and from A’bong’s rear. Then A’bong roars again.
‘Ghr’oak*! You morons! Can’t you see? The infiltrator is trying to ambush us! He put out the torches!’

Footnote : (* Ghr’oak = A hole in your gorged flesh! – A very rude Orcish sarcasm)

The kobolds only yelp and bark in reply, obeying their master and leader.
‘This one is good, better than the gorged guts trying to kill us these three months!
You bitch! Go to the center and bring us some torches! And the rest of you, spread! Proceed with caution! The infiltrator is still around here! Hiding!’
Gorged guts? Robert thinks. This orc probably eats humans, or at least the kobolds do.
Orcs are usually well-versed with Aurelian Common Speech as well as their own harsh language that mostly sounds like grunts and growls, but they always speak in harsh slangs and sarcasms, and only believe that they can only control or lead others by power and out of fear. Female orcs only choose those who are fearsome and strong (because no orc is fair – as a matter of fact). No wonder male orcs sometimes kill each other to get the female and to show who’s the strongest. And A’bong is indeed an example of an orc idol because his brutality is more terrible than his rude talks.
Back to the tension at hand. Robert thinks hard to free himself. Now he begins to think that he should’ve chosen to be an assassin or learn the methods of stealth-killing, or be a sorcerer with mass-killing skills, but martial art is what he does best. No regrets, then. A swordsman is a swordsman. Then a kobold sniffs near his hiding place. Robert is tensed. Then in split seconds his wits fly fast and without thinking twice he carries on with his new plan and attacks the kobold near him without looking; only using his other senses.
He successfully slashes the kobold diagonally on the torso, and the kobold wails before it dies. A’bong and the other kobolds hear the wail, and run to the source. Then Robert avoids the kobold in front of him and runs to the exit. But the large kobold lunges with its claws, slashing Robert’s left arm, leaving three scratch marks on the wound. Robert is in pain – but as usual he only grimaces – never screams. Clutching his bleeding left arm, Robert runs into the narrow part of the cave, and waits midway.
Then he hears loud barking and sees the large kobold entering the narrow passage, and its two fellow kobolds also enter with him. As they are racing to reach Robert, the three kobolds jam each other on the narrow passage which width can only support one person. Robert uses this opportunity by slashing into the large kobold, splitting it in half with his incredibly sharp kiliji. Then he charges onto the second kobold and decapitates it. The last one, the female kobold springs onto Robert with a greater speed than the male, and sinks its teeth on Robert’s chest only to find that its teeth only goes into the thick leather armor and only scratch Robert’s chest a bit. Robert sees this opportunity and thrusts his kiliji into the female kobold’s gut, killing it at once. Then he pushes the dead kobold away and pats his reliable armor, as though thanking Vadis for the one who sold him this good quality armor.
Then no one comes into the narrow passage – and Robert thinks that A’bong has already realized this tactic too. And it’s getting brighter inside – the torches are lit again. Well, playtime is over, Robert thinks. Now it’s the real showdown between a human, an orc and two kobold mongrels. Robert takes out his healing potion and drinks the whole dose from the container. Then he boldy walks into the wide caverns again, clutching his bleeding left hand.
I should’ve worn my robe and cloak tonight – and brought a healing salve, Robert thinks.
A sarcastic voice greets him as he comes out of the narrow pass.
‘Well, well, the rat finally comes out. Still have the guts, huh?
You got bigheaded after killing my six mongrels, huh?’
Robert sees A’bong standing at a distance, staring mockingly at him. Robert approaches him.
‘Gharh, not very good at all, you still got wounded by my mutts. You two, now stay away! It’s now a matter between two warriors. C’mon, take me down now! Show me what you got!’
The two kobolds back away. And Robert has already arrived in front of A’bong. Apparently A’bong has underestimated him because of his arm wound and several minor wounds on his body. And A’bong thinks that the blood on Robert’s right is Robert’s, so Robert must be in front of the death’s door and A’bong can finish him with ease.
Robert says, ‘You know what your problem is?’
‘You talk too much!’
Without warning, Robert attacks A’bong with his kiliji. A’bong is shocked with Robert’s fast moves – for a dying man. He gets overwhelmed at first, but he successfully repels Robert’s blows with his great axe. Then Robert increases the strength and speed of his attacks. Swordsmen usually use the balanced measure between strength and speed and have adequate constitution to bear heavy wounds before using healing potions.
Robert uses his skill – Power Bash and inflicts a deep wound on A’bong, but A’bong shows the Orcs’ great constitution by counter-attacking Robert with his great axe. Had Robert slowed down a little, he would have been split in two with the simple axe slash – Land and Sea Divide from A’bong. Robert backs away staggering from the shock vibration from the effect of A’bong’s strike, then he gathers his strength again quickly and launches his combo move – Ten Point Chain Slash, slashing ten times on ten different weak point possibilities in split seconds. It’s a devastating combo. A’bong can’t match his speed with Robert’s and gets slashed in seven points and can only block or avoid three. Blood gushes out from the wounds, and A’bong falls on his knees on the ground.
But as Robert is going to deliver his killing blow, the two kobolds charge to save their master and attack Robert from the front and left. The large kobold seizes Robert’s left foot, gnaws on Robert’s armored left side. At the same time the female kobold locks Robert’s sword and kicks Robert right at his cheek. The blows throw Robert backwards, and now he’s completely helpless – sprawling on the ground – seized by the two kobolds. Boy he wishes that he complied with Hulferd’s advice to bring a party along – and his stubbornness will lead to his death. And once again he gets the feeling he hates most: fear, as A’bong rises up again with glee. He raises his axe high – ready to deliver the Land and Sea Divide Slash to divide Robert in two.
‘Now, you die! And my mongrels will gorge your gut!’
In that critical moment a flash of a beautiful lady’s face comes in Robert’s mind and Robert quickly regains his resolve and wit.
He thinks, NO, I can’t die now!
He screams, ‘YAAAAAAHHH!!!’
The slash goes down. Robert lets out his spirited glare, and in split seconds, with his remaining strength rolls to the right, dragging the large kobold with him with his free left hand and the blow from A’bong slashes the large kobold instead and splits it in two – the large kobold has served as Robert’s shield now. The female kobold gets shocked and its grip is loosened. Robert gets up and thrusts his kiliji into the orc’s throat – his unarmored part and also the orcs’ common weak point. A’bong spills out blood and he dies with wide-opened eyes before he can say ‘Impossible!’ – His last thought.
Robert retracts his sword from A’bong’s throat, and the dead orc falls on the ground. The female kobold howls at the top of its voice, enraged by the loss of its mates and master. Robert’s physical strength has depleted, but a newfound strength is growing inside him. It’s fire, the element of Robert’s inner strength. It has been triggered when Robert avoided A’bong’s last attack and now it’s growing out from his hand then covers his kiliji. From now on, he can use fire property in his sword skills. The female kobold whimpers at Robert’s display of strength – He’s stronger and more deadly than A’bong is and ever be. Its canine instinct takes over – it flees. But Robert is now determined to finish his job completely and slashes his sword from afar, horizontally. A crescent-shaped fire emerges from the slash and flies in high speed towards the kobold. The kobold feels a hot wind behind it and turns its head back – and it howls in terror as the fiery crescent splits its torso in two.
It was one of the sword skills that originally utilize air – The Dragon Wings Air Slash. Now with fire property its name is The Crescent Fire Slash. Robert and Hulferd can do multiple air slashes, but in this case one is enough to finish the job.
Realizing that his job is finished, Robert sighs in relief. Tears start rolling from his eyes, as though he is sad and dissatisfied, but in fact the true reason is different. And his expression is somewhat indifferent. One may think that this is just a daily routine for Robert, or a mere trifle.
It’s another job well done.
But before he can move to decapitate his target or collect the proofs of his work, his failing physical strength, wounds all over his body, and loss of blood makes him staggering, lolling and then he collapses on the ground, unconscious. His condition is critical, and sometimes when a man goes into that state, flashes of the past and his entire life may come to him…


End of Chapter One

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