Alarmed, Locke rolled forward, thrusting his sword to the faint glow.
He followed up immediately with his impetus. Despite that, however, he could not disarm his opponent. He did manage to seize control of the situation and take the upper hand, however, despite his opponent slightly above average height. He lost the initiative a moment later, however, when his opponent shrieked in shock like a woman.
Locke he hesitated for only a moment while he processed the shriek, but then he was on his opponent again and his hands reached for its neck. His suspicions were confirmed when he felt the soft, almost delicate neck between his fingers. He felt sorry to kill someone with such an alluring neck, but war was war, and he squeezed. Another figure appeared in that moment, however, and he was forced to let go of the neck to block the attack. His hand grabbed something soft rather than the hard impact against a fist he had been expecting, and the yard was filled with another shriek.
His eyes finally came around to the darkness and he could make out his attackers' faces. They were both gorgeous, but one looked young, almost innocent, whilst the other had a harsh awareness of reality in them, or at least more compared to the former. His eyes settled on his hand, and he saw it cupping a delicate breast. The mature woman to whom the breast belonged, was biting her lip against the pain of having one of her soft lumps quite literally manhandled. He held his grip on them, all three frozen in their positions, then tears welled up in the breast's woman's eyes, and her lips purpled. Locke let go of the lump he'd been needing forcefully for not quite as long as it felt and the woman collapsed to the floor.
He ignored her, no longer concerned with her. Now that he knew of her presence, she could not surprise him. And turned his attention to the other woman pinned beneath him. He could tell something was... different about her. Then he realised why she felt that way; she was blocking his impetus. His other hand was still enough to shut down her breathing and she was on the brink of passing out.
"Who are you?" he asked.
A part of his brain registered the one he was choking was wearing a maid's uniform and he noticed the edge of a ponytail poking out from behind her head. The other woman wore a black dress. It was diary, but he could tell how rich it was beneath it at a glance.
"Cough... cough... Let go of Laffey! You're killing her!" the one he'd manhandled shouted desperately. She had made it to his side, but rather than attack, she was trying to shove or pull him off the other woman.
Locke gazed at her impassively. He could not remember ever having seen someone so desperate, especially not a woman. He'd known only a few women in his life, most of them barmaids, and they were always all polite smiles and courtesy.
He ignored her and continued choking the other woman. Several long seconds later her eyes started rolling back into her head and he felt the edges of death beginning to knaw at the extremities of her limbs. He waited until her thrashing became the instinctive convulses of a body in the last throws of life before he let go and let her gasp for breath. And rolled off her. The other woman helped him along with a final shove and replaced him on the girl, desperately shouting at her.
"Laffey, Laffey! Are you okay?"
The girl didn't respond for nearly a minute as she gasped for breath with a hoarse throat, then nodded at her convulsive gasps reduced to only heavy breathing, then passed out.
Locke stood to the side, watching the two. His eyes widened when the girl exhaled for the first time after taking her first gasp. He sensed in that breath the same traces of impetus he could sense from himself and Yoshk. He wondered, almost absently, how the girl's impetus would fare against his Falconim.
The woman, the mistress he realised, panicked then the girl fainted. She would have lost it entirely if the girl's chest didn't continue to rise rather more rapidly than it should. She stared at that chest for nearly two minutes before she breathed again herself and relaxed. Her body tensed again immediately as she remembered the stranger who'd just bested them both.
"Who are you?" Locke finally asked again.
"W-we're an ordinary family. She's my maid."
Glace was a famous socialite of the royal capital. She very quickly regained her composure and started weaving a tale to get them out of this situation.
"You're lying! Which normal family's maid trains impetus?"
Locke glared at her with the threat of death in his eyes, and Glace shuddered. She'd never been the subject of such a gaze. She was an ordinary person, she could not sense what Locke had, nor could she sense that from him. She had thought Locke was just a jarl with remarkable strength.
This was also the difference between Shalor and Faustian. In the army of Faustian, a soldier could only learn impetus after gaining a certain amount of military merit. However, in Shalor, impetus and other secret techniques were passed down along noble bloodlines. It was common for lower-ranked jarls to not even know about impetus. As for the jarls who did, they were either members of nobility or were the retainers of one.
No matter how Glace looked at Locke, she could not sense a trace of noble aura about him. He was most likely a commoner.
Locke was also clueless about the difference of standards between Shalor and Faustian in regards to access to impetus. He only knew that meeting an enemy whom practised impetus was rare. Even in the city's defence, for example, each gate had had only two men with impetus. Yoshk had once said any person that learnt impetus in Shalor was either wealthy or came from a noble family. If they met one on the battlefield, he would normally call his men to focus on that person and kill him. The ransom on one of them would be nothing at which to turn up one's nose. And then, of course, there was the matter of what trinkets they might have on their person.
He looked at the girl. Her uniform looked much like those of one of the baron's maids. If he was to point out a difference, it would be the patterns and colours. That also meant he would not be getting any goods like armour or a sword. He didn't see a ring or necklace either but did notice a golden bracelet on her wrist. Something is better than nothing, he thought. He took the bracelet and placed it in his pocket.
The woman seemed resolute on not telling the truth. So, he prepared to use some harsh techniques to interrogate her. The was indeed a beautiful specimen of the female side of humanity, but it would not make him stay his hand. Undue mercy could kill, and often did, especially in war.
"Auntie..." a little girl's faint whisper broke the silence.
The city was finally calm late the next morning. It was a small city, only barely more than a town, really, but it had been swollen by refugees in the preceding months, and they were all very stubborn.
Crying, cursing, heavy objects dropping on floors, and objects shattering against walls filled the city.
There was also a hubbub at the mayor's mansion, where Cardoj was at the moment.
"What are you saying? The mayor ran away? Why didn't you tell me yesterday?!" Cashel could be heard yelling from the other side of the mansion.
"It's only a mayor. It's no big deal," Cardoj replied vaguely, wiping his shirt with a handkerchief.
"Only a mayor? He is a margrave's son! He alone is worth half the city!"
"He's a castaway. What do you expect of him?--" Cardoj reposted calmly. Seeing as Cashel had more to say, he continued quickly. "--Don't you just want a larger share of the spoils? You can take another ten percent from the treasury and armoury."
"What about the granary..."
Cashel wanted to settle for more but was quickly dismissed by Cardoj.
"Don't have much food left, so we'll settle on 50/50 as promised."
As Cashel and Cardoj's forces were their own levees, not royal troops just under their command, their expenses were only partially subsidised by the crown. The rest was on the barons' pockets.
"Alright, fine," Cashel sighed and left.
Wyr and Cardoj's butler came in shortly after.
"What happened?" the baron asked spoke insipidly.
No one could guess his thoughts from his ice-cold face.
"The mayor had 50 cavalrymen with him when he broke out. Although the cavalry's equipment and calibre isn't as good as ours, they are at least a match in strength. Besides that, one enemy mid-rank Knecht and two low-rank Knechts made concerted efforts to stall me with the best of their abilities."
"Ohh? Two beginner Knechts and one mid-rank Knecht?" The baron was suddenly interested in the topic since even a baron like Cashel had only one low-rank Knecht and one low-rank caster.
"Yes, Lord Baron." Wyr did not exert impetus pressure like he did in front of Locke and his subordinates because firstly, the baron was a low-rank Knecht himself, and secondly, he also developed an air of imposing dignity from his high standing.
"Besides that, the mid-rank Knecht fought with his life and let himself get thrust through by my sword to stall me."
Cardoj could vividly imagine the scenario. For a mid-rank Knecht on the receiving end of a high-rank Knecht's sword thrust, he would only end up crippled, if not dead. Even so, he could still stall Wyr for a time. He probably used a secret technique.
The baron's expression slowly eased. "That's it for this matter. Did you hide the things properly?"
"Yes, it's sitting in the woods outside the city. I assigned a few soldiers to stand guard there," Wyr replied.
Naturally, Wyr's troops would not allow the mayor's whole cohort to escape. They managed to capture three horse-carriages out of five during the chase.
According to the report Cardoj received from his subordinates, one of the carriages was full of gold, amounting to around a thousand gold coins; another carriage was filled with Shalorian jewellery and artistic crafts; the last one had armour and weapons. In contrast to the silver and bronze coins in the treasury, the value of the gold coins more than made up for Cardoj's costs in capturing the city. Not to mention, the looted jewellery and crafts were more valuable. Even so, they were tedious to deal with, since they had to transport it to Bideslane to convert them into value.