Back on the Carrack, Sheena is still Holding Hernan and the crews of Aurora hostage.
Hernan protests, ‘You’re mad, Sheena! You are putting our lives in jeopardy! One blast from Aurora, and we’ll be finished!’
Sheena replies coolly, ‘If he still has some sense left in him, he will come down here. If not, well, just think that we’re dealing with a monster in a noble’s skin.’
Robert and Zach don’t say a word. They just stand on the lower deck with their weapons ready. Just then, someone is coming down the rope ladder. It’s Adler von Bachmann.
‘I told you so,’ says Sheena.
As he steps on the deck, Adler draws his Zweihänder Kraal’shazar from his back and says loudly,
‘Release Hernan and my crews and surrender, or else.’
‘And if we release Hernan, you’ll arrest us anyway. Just keep those empty threats and let’s get straight to the point,’ Sheena begins her arguments. ‘The bottom line is, we’re not going to give up without a fight. Let’s make duels: You and Hernan versus me and Robert. If we win, we will go with you peacefully. This is our fight, so no need to drag our crews along in it. Well, do we have an agreement?’
‘I don’t deal with pirates.’
‘Very well, it’s your loss then. EXECUTE ALL HOSTAGES!’
‘W-WAIT! WAIT!’ says Adler hastily. ‘All right, duels then. I just can’t wait to see Kraal’shazar in full action again!’
‘That’s more like it, Lord Adler. A wise decision,’ says Sheena. ‘Release Hernan and give his sword back to him. I want a match between his Albatross and my dancing scimitars.’ She readily draws her scimitars.
‘I adore and respect women, Sheena,’ Hernan replies. ‘So I won’t underestimate you. We’ll fight like two men!’ He receives his Rapier from Ellephar’s hand, waves it sideways and raises it upright in front of him, right between his two fiery eyes.
Adler takes his position to face Robert and says to him, ‘Robert Chandler. We’ve been rivals during our two years hunting marks for bounty. Now you are my mark, so you’ll end up like my other marks.’
Robert sets his stance with flame engulfing the blade of Grimlock saber, saying, ‘Grimlock and Kraal’shazar of Adair’s Arsenal. Let’s see which the better one is.’
The crews all move away, giving them enough space to move freely. Then, without any signal, the four combatants rush towards each other’s opponents. Sword clashes with sword, exchanging blow after blow with high speed. Power versus skill, speed versus precision.
At one point, Adler and Robert swing their swords at the same time with all their might.
Adler and Robert push against each other with their swords. Eventually, the force that concentrates on the swords becomes compressed and bursts, sending the two duelists away from each other: Adler five steps back, and Robert six.
‘Now you see the gap between our strengths,’ says Adler.
‘Yeah, it’s only a step away. But I feel warmed up right now. Do you?’ Robert challenges.
‘Got it before you did. Now, I’m on FIRE!’
‘Let’s put the fire to the test, shall we? On guard!’
Saying that, Robert slashes his sword two times, sending a high-speed bolt of Crossfire Slash towards Adler. Adler blocks it with the skill that should be performed with two swords: Phoenix Wings. The heavy two-handed sword makes Adler’s overall slashes slower than it should, so a friction of Robert’s bolt still hits Adler – although with much reduced force so it doesn’t hurt him much.
Before Adler can catch his breath, Robert already rushes close to him and then attacks with lightning-speed spinning slashes from different angles, a move named Green Dragon Assault Strike. Adler quickly retaliates with a similar attack – less in speed and frequency but superior in strength – Tusks of Stampeding Elephants. Their swords clash countless times, and some of the unblocked blows inflict more wounds on their bodies.
Making a full use of his speed advantage against Adler, Robert changes his variant to a combination of Rising Dragon Uppercut Slash and Dragon Hammering Down. Adler blocks the uppercut, but is unaware of the second slash from above. When he realizes it, the blow nearly hits his head. Using his reflexes, Adler spins his body and sword downwards with Whirlwind Slash. That particular move blocks Robert’s slash and counterattacks at once, but Robert quickly ducks and applies Dragon Tailsweep, a low spinning backward slash when Adler lands on the ground. Adler blocks the move by thrusting Kraal’shazar into the deck floor and quickly lifts his sword up. With a quick spinning jump, he slashes a long, deep cut on Robert’s leather armor with Pouncing Tiger Bash. Without his armor, Robert’s wound would be deep and fatal, but the bleeding alone shows that Robert is badly hurt from that attack.
Seeing that result, Adler smiles triumphantly. But Robert doesn’t give up. Adler’s pause gives him time to re-concentrate his aura, and then with a roar Robert charges with Wrath of the Dragon God, a single, concentrated thrust reinforced with high-level fire energy towards a single target: Adler’s throat that is most probably Adler’s least protected spot.
Adler moves his sword to parry Robert’s strike, but suddenly course of Robert’s saber strike changes! It turns and goes to Adler’s head from the side – a simple blow is going to be a killing blow!
Just as the edge of the blade is about an inch away from his brain, Adler slides forward in shock. Grimlock goes on thrusting, making a line of fire, burning the outer strands of Adler’s treasured long, blonde hair.
Robert moves on to a safe distance from his opponent and concentrates his remaining energy for the next move – his finishing move. Adler, however, doesn’t share Robert’s calmness. Instead, he is very much enraged.
‘My beautiful hair... ruined! Robert, you-must-paaay!!!’
Saying so, he accumulates rage into negative, black energy typical to his Deathblade Kraal’shazar to the climax. He’s going to finish Robert off, despite of his contract for bringing his mark in alive.
Realizing that they’re suffering enough wounds and this move is going to be decisive for the duel, Robert and Adler stay on their stances. They don’t dare to attack before their opponents do – If they run out of energy during this final round, their opponents will finish them off. So, all they need is a sign, a glint, or a faintest sound so they can launch their attacks together.
Zachary is aware of this deadlock situation, so he takes a zenny out of a pirate’s pocket and tosses the coin high up in the air between Adler and Robert. The duelists follow the signal determinedly with their spirited eyes. The coin stops in mid-air... ‘ready’, falls way down... ‘get set’, and lands, clattering on the floor... ‘GO!’
Adler and Robert rush towards each other! As their swords are within range, they launch their most powerful combos: Robert with Regrets of the Dragon and Adler with Shattering of Heaven and Earth. No one spectator, even ones with the sharpest eyes can catch their lightning-speed movements and blows.
The clashes go on. Both duelists do their best to cut into the unguarded parts without trying to block at a cost of ruining their attack patterns. Speed is their only defense. In this game, the fastest and the toughest will win – or die after this is over.
They keep up their attacks for another ten seconds until both of them move away to a safe distance from each other at the same time. This time they stand back-to-back against each other and don’t move.
Suddenly, Robert grunts painfully. His wounds from that last attack are opening and bleeding in countless places all over his body. His leather armor is not tough enough for the legendary Deathblade. It seems Robert is lost – again.
Suddenly, Adler is jerking and vomiting blood!
He bends over and clutches his stomach. The wounds he suffered are less in number than Robert’s, but one single inner wound in his stomach is so severe – it makes him lose his balance and falls on the deck, unconscious.
Now we know who the real winner is.
Robert doesn’t care if he wins or loses. He just walks feebly to a corner and sits there, watching the fight between Hernan and Sheena. Zachary goes near him and applies his Vitali Healing Spell on Robert’s wounds, exclaiming with awe.
‘Quality over quantity. Well done, Robert.’
‘Zach, old friend,’ Robert replies. ‘Please heal Adler’s wounds too.’
‘Lo, why? He meant to capture you, Robert! Your kindness won’t change anything!’
‘If he has a sense of honor within him, he will admit defeat and go away in peace. I have nothing to do with him. I don’t want to make him my enemy. We’ve been rivals in bounty-hunting, I admit, but nothing is more honorable than a good and fair competition. As long as we are in the same side in fighting injustice and evil, I see no reason to leave him knocking the death’s door.’
‘Well, if you think so, I’m with you. Just be careful, Rob.’
‘I always do. Now let’s see Hernan and Sheena’s duel – whose one will prevail.’
Meanwhile, Hernan is in trouble. His combo, Albatross Embraces the Clouds fails to juggle Sheena up into the air so he can combine it with Shears of the Falling Rain multi-thrust combo and smash her back to the floor.
Apparently, Sheena blocks that attack with her twin dancing scimitars and counters it with her signature move, the Scorpion Kick: the single kick with a back-flip somersault. The kick hits Hernan’s forehead and throws him to the back.
Hernan the Escudian fencer is still standing after that blow, but his head is now very painful and dizzy. Before Hernan recovers from that dizziness, Sheena uses this opportunity to strike with her fiery twin swords: Phoenix Wings.
This is bad! If Hernan doesn’t recover from grogginess, he will end up in pieces. He realizes that attack when the first two slashes land on his Mythril Armor Eil’thanath but not injuring him at all. The third slash misses Hernan altogether because in that split second Hernan moves away very quickly and gracefully using his defensive-evasive move Dances in the Cascades. Sheena next slashes don’t hit him at all, so she is real upset now.
‘Oh, you really can dance, mister. May I cut in?’
Saying that, Sheena changes her move to Sandstorm Skirmish, adding thrusts to slashes with greater speed. Her move is like a violent desert sandstorm, destroying everything on its path.
This time Hernan is ready. ‘Let’s dance together then,’ he says.
Hernan moves as gracefully as ever with his favorite move Requiem of the Tides. Though this is a serial thrust move, it gives the user more chance to evade enemy’s attack and opens the door to more variations and angles, combining speed and precision at the highest level. With water attributes, Hernan’s move soaks Sheena’s dry variants and causes her to ‘go with the flow’. It seems Hernan has Sheena under control!
But Sheena doesn’t care. She still slashes and thrusts, pushing her speed to the limit. She tries to hit Hernan from various angles, but only a few of them managed to hit the spot, that is, anywhere but the parts covered with the Mythril Armor. That lightweight, tougher-than-dragon-scales armor really gives Hernan a sheer advantage against Sheena. If she turn to defensive, she might still have a chance to inflict fatal wound on Hernan, but since she pushed on and on... well, she got much more damage than she should.
Feeling a bit ‘merciful’, Hernan pushes himself away from Sheena by kicking her stomach, sending her flying way back and hitting the ship mast.
Countless thrust wounds on Sheena’s body are not fatal, thank goodness. But as a result of that, Sheena can’t get up at all. She has pushed herself over the limit and now she’s powerless and defenseless. She can feel her life is going to end any second now, with the edge of Albatross Rapier piercing through her heart. But actually, it doesn’t happen. Hernan just stands there with his hand on his forehead. He is still groggy, but he’s the winner.
Then Hernan looks around and finds Robert on the corner. Zachary is still tending to Robert’s wounds, but Robert signals him to stop because of this challenge.
‘Looks like one-one, eh?’ says Hernan. ‘We’ll have a final match right here and now.’
‘Indeed. Your armor is legendary, but can it resist the power of Grimlock?’
‘Guess we’ll have to find out... the hard way.’
Saying that, Hernan spin-jumps way up and thrusts down right towards Rob’s eye – the Whirlpool Polonaise thrust.
Gained back seventy percent of his stamina, Robert parries Hernan’s attack with his flaming saber and counters with the basic multi-slash skill that targets ten different weak point possibilities: the Ten Point Chain Slash.
Hernan parries seven slashes, one miss and two hit Hernan’s chest and back. Thanks to Mythril Armor, those hits only made minor bruises and not fatal cuts.
Where Loyalties Lie by Rob J. Hayes (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo) - *Official Author Website* *Order Where Loyalties Lie over HERE (USA) and HERE (UK)* *Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Heresy Within* *Read Fantasy ...
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