The alley went deeper inside. Five buildings flanked its entrance. After the turn, however, there was another 20-metre stretch. Apart from a tightly shut metal gate at the end, the area was surrounded by three-metre-tall stone walls. The rat had made this place his hideout and had done countless unmentionable things there. Doing their deeds out of the public eye made them considerably less nervous.
Claude considered how he should deal with the five. The two with the knives behind him were in their late teens. They were complete amateurs. They'd even let their guard down just because he hadn't fought back yet. They'd stepped back some and now only pointed their knives at him.
They had almost certainly not attended school. Any middle-schooler would have known not to give a foot of ground when one had the enemy. Any instructor worth his salt would have drilled that into them.
The two slabs of meat flanking the lanky bastard weren't much better. They looked impressive to untrained eyes, but Claude could spot dozens of holes in their defences. His only consideration was whether he should beat them all up the old fashioned way, or end it quickly with a couple Magic Missiles. He didn't fancy using magic too much. If nothing else, they had to have a decent backing. Then again, if this was all that backing could get, then it couldn't be too much.
"Quick, get your money and sign the agreement," the rat continued, "You should be happy I'm selling so cheap."
His minions cackled a little too enthusiastically.
Claude's muscles twitched, but he stopped himself on the brink of taking action when he heard footsteps closing in rapidly. There were at least a dozen of them. Their footsteps were light and cautious, even their breathing was suppressed.
What was going on? He immediately shut down his mana circulating through his hexagram and wiped away any trace of activated mana. He might have more confidence had this been Whitestag, but he'd told himself numerous times not to take chances elsewhere. He didn't have the foggiest idea who knew or didn't know about magic. Since he now had an audience, his decision had been made for him.
The old fashioned way it was.
The rat was still going, but he soon stopped when he realised his prey wasn't paying him any attention.
"Ole' Third, get me his pouch and search him. If he dares resist, leg him."
'Ole' Third', the one who'd asked what they should do with him, answered. He gave Claude the impression of a sharpened, if somewhat jagged, knife despite being only 17. Claude supposed that was to be expected of someone who hadn't yet realised how big the ocean was compared to their little pond.
Third thrust his dagger at Claude's thigh. The way he saw it, even the strongest of men would beg for mercy weakly while clutching on their bleeding thigh. After that, he could deal with them however he wanted. Anyone who dared to offend his boss would definitely not make it out of this unharmed. He would give him a good skinning.
He had shaved a rod into the blade he held in his hand. It was less than ten centimetres long, but it had a triangular shape and a razor-sharp point. While it wasn't that easy to use for slashing others, it was particularly effective at piercing. Third was quite famous in Whitewood despite his young age and was known to be a rabid dog who loved to poke holes in others.
Because Claude didn't resist, Third didn't regard him with much concern. He couldn't wait to stomp on his head when he was down. He had stopped growing in height when he was fifteen and most people towered over him, much to his dismay.
However, when his blade shot out, his target took a step back all of a sudden. Third watched as his blade caught air. He stumbled forwards and almost fell. Just as he was about to shout 'how dare you evade me', he watched as a fist enlarge in his vision before he blacked out. He suffered a heavy strike square in the face. Before the pain could travel through his nerves, he heard a crisp snap as his nose caved in.
Claude hated how cruel Third was and countered the move with a similar cruelty. Not only did he punch his face, he grabbed the arm with the blade, turned it around, and sent it piercing into the lower abdomen of the fellow. Third looked as if he had stabbed himself with the blade.
All that happened swiftly and ended within the blink of an eye. The two large men and the scrawny fellow and the other fellow with a dagger behind Claude could barely process what happened. All they saw was Third preparing to put a hole in Claude's thigh and they waited in anticipation. They expected to see the youth collapse and hug his thigh as he begged for mercy just like the many times it happened before.
The foreign youth ducked and put the blade back into Third's stomach. Third fell to the ground as he breathed raggedly, still confused as to what had happened.
Naturally, Claude wouldn't let the other fellow with the dagger behind him off either. He used his left elbow to strike him in the solar plexus. It was his fault for leaving himself that open with his heart completely undefended. Both his hands were hanging down and he only loosely held onto his dagger. Given how close he was, Claude was able to elbow the vital point accurately. That fellow dropped his dagger and hugged his chest as he fell to the ground and writhed in pain, face burning red and mouth wide open to take in the breath that would not enter.
The rat still wore his sleazy smile as he witnessed with terror everything that transpired. His two men fell just like that. Whether they were still alive was unknown. Yet, the foreign youth didn't seem to have moved much. He smile melted into a perverse amalgamation of terror and petrification. He now knew that he got the jackpot.
"Blow... blow the whistle... Call... Call my second uncle!" mouthed the rat with great difficulty.
Seeing Claude approach him with a sinister smile, he backed down in a panic and waved for the two burley men to charge while he fumbled for something in his clothes. "Y-you! Go stop him first. I... I will blow the w-whistle..."
The box of so-called premium-quality whiteroot powder and the purchase agreement have been long discarded. The powder spilled out from the open box.
The first of the two men to rush forward hammered down with his fist. He was a clueless street fighter who had no idea about the closest distance between two points. Claude gave a straight counter and landed his fist on the man's face while the latter's fist was still mid air.
"Oooopff!" The man's face contorted as he spat out blood and a few teeth.
If one's vitals weren't struck in a fistfight, one could last at least two to three minutes even against an overpowering opponent. That was the case with the huge man. He cried out in pain and clutched his face with his left hand while holding out his right to defend against Claude's follow up.
But that wasn't a big deal for Claude. He stretched his left hand out, locked his grip on the man's right wrist and pulled back, causing the man to fall towards him. With a twist of his body and a shove of his right hand, he pulled of a suplex, swinging the man high up in the air while he flailed his left hand wildly before smashing him down harshly on the stony ground like a broken linen sack. The man was just like a fish on dry land, struggling but unable to get up no matter what.
Seeing his comrade end up like that, the other brute didn't charge in straight away. Instead, he continued backing off nonstop. The rat finally got his whistle out and blew on it with all he had.
The piercing sound of the constable whistle reverberated across the alley.
"J-just you wait... My boss' second uncle will come over immediately! H-he's a constable! J-just you wait... You'll be locked up!" Having finally blown the whistle, the man regained some confidence and courage.
Claude clicked his tongue. It was no wonder the man dared to force his deals on foreigners in a city like Whitewood. He had a backer in the constabulary. Normal peasants would probably really have to take the man's beating without complaining as they couldn't afford to piss him off. Even if they resisted, they would be arrested by any constables that came later.
But Claude wasn't too worried about that. He finally found a benefit to being conscripted. For normal peasants, being conscripted in a time of musket warfare meant going on the battlefield as cannon fodder. That was why the Kingdom of Aueras employed such a militaristic conscription policy, offering dignitarian status to peasants as bait. They would also receive the benefits and treatment of a soldier.
Ever since he got the conscription order, Claude was no longer a civilian peasant, but instead military personnel. That was also why he wasn't given any trouble when he was checked by the keepers and constables at the entrance of the city. Some more strict checks required the peasants to show their luggage to see whether any forbidden goods were being carried, but Claude didn't have to go through all that. When the constables realised that he was to be trained as an officer at Bluefeather, they quickly gave his passport the stamp. Some of them even enviously wished Claude success.
So what if the rat's second uncle was a constable? He would definitely not dare to lock Claude up. Delaying the conscription of military personnel by faking a crime and locking them up was something punishable by the complete annihilation of the family, especially one of Bluefeather. Claude wasn't just any new recruit either. After training, his rank would at least be that of a sergeant-major. While he would merely be considered a low-ranked officer, an officer of Bluefeather wasn't something the constabulary of Whitewood could afford to trifle with.
Another constable whistle sounded in response some distance away and sounded like it was approaching the alley. The remaining brute and the rat let out a breath of relief, with the former saying, "It's over for you. I'll make sure someone on the inside gives you a good lesson."
Claude ignored the man's threat and instead focused on the men that secretly approached them. What were they trying to do? Was he the target, or the rat?
The constable whistle suddenly stopped at the entrance of the alley. Oddly, nobody came inside after a long wait. The rat had almost retreated to the turn in the alley and said to the brute, "Watch him and don't let him escape. I'll get my second uncle to come over."
He then darted the way he came in. But when he reached the turn, he seemed to bump into something with an audible yelp before a loud slap could be heard.
"Get the heck back in there!" a rough voice ordered. The rat took one step back into the dead end of the alley with a mark on the left half of his face and his body shivering. A short-barrelled pistol with a lit slow match was pushed flush against his chest.