"Run!" A shadow guard towed Angelina along as he scurried through the woods. Nothing existed where his left arm should have been, and only a broken sleeve gushing with an endless stream of blood could be seen. His black, skintight bodysuit was also split apart to reveal a gaping cut across his entire shoulder, inside of which was a gory mess of raw, mushy, flesh with wounds so deep his bones were vaguely visible. His clothes were drenched in fresh blood.
Tossing away the last sliver of concern for her image, Angelina ran swiftly with the help of the shadow guard. Her long ponytail was now strewn across her shoulders, and there was a multitude of gashes adorned her sleeves. Fortunately, she did not suffer many injuries, but it was likely that the people trying to hunt her down had spared her on purpose. At this moment, Angelina's snowy white boots had already worn out. Although they were produced by the top tailor in the royal capital, these boots had served their time. Needless to say, scratches, scruffiness, sweat, and several other factors had contributed to transforming this long dress that was extraordinary at first glance into nothing more than what looked to be an ordinary blouse and skirt worn by regular village women. Indeed, a blouse -- the princess' outfit no longer resembled a long dress in any way.
Of the two remaining shadow guards, this was the only survivor -- this man suffering a severed arm amongst other life-threatening injuries.
Red dots flickered from behind the two lurching escapees. They had no idea how many men of Blood Red were still attempting to hunt them down in the darkness. The most conspicuous one was Leit, still clad in armour but without his mask. Scarlet trails flashed through Leit's eyes and a ruthless smirk stretched across his face. Little beads of blood slowly oozed from a shallow nick on Leit's left cheek, his figure only progressively more terrifying in the eyes of Angelina as she stumbled over her feet upfront. Leit also carried a detached arm in his hand from which blood still actively gushed, indicating that it had just been torn off not too long ago.
The scratches on Leit's face were bestowed by none other than Lane, the jarl of the shadow guards. That guy was worthy of his title as the jarl. Even when Leit was crushing him with overpowering strength, Lane managed to let his strength explode as he desperately tried to resist Leit and sought to return every ounce of damage inflicted on himself, landing hard blow after hard blow. It was a relief for Leit that he wasn't the only one there. He left Kashir to deal with the jarl of the shadow guards, who had already utilised every last drop of his life and potential. Having employed secret techniques to force out his potential, Lane, who was less powerful than Kashir, was able to overcome the difference of one rank with ease despite his diminishing vitality. Though, there wasn't much expected of Kashir other than holding back a flaring Lane. After a period of time, Lane's vitality would gradually be depleted and he would then be easily killed.
Whilst the scene unfolded, a much stronger Leit left to chase down the three kittens who had fled amidst the chaos. On the way, he managed to finish off one of the shadow guards. Just moments before, he also managed to tear off the left arm of the remaining guard. Although Leit was good at scimitars and blades, his mentality had warped possibly as a consequence of being on the battlefield for a long time. He preferred to torture and kill the enemy, watch the enemy howl in helplessness, and let them perish in horror. As for the target of their mission, he dared not touch a single hair on her. If she wound up injured, it would make matters tricky, hence Angelina was unscathed.
The only remaining shadow guard gave his very best as he ran for his life, even forcefully using the secret techniques taught in the shadow guards exclusively to low-rank Knechts, but Leit, who was pacing from behind like a ravaging ghost, effortlessly closed in like a crimson reaper thirsting for life. Though the injured shadow guard had undergone lots of willpower training within the shadow guards, he couldn't quite contain the brimming despair. The invincible man in the frightening scarlet armour reminded him of the time he had when he first joined the shadow guards, the days of the instructor's devilish training programs, memories from that chapter he kept buried deep within his heart, those unforgettable memories.
Either due to the throbbing pain in his left arm, the fear that Leit in his blood-red armour instilled in him, or the resurfacing memories of his arduous past, the shadow guard suddenly turned his head back, glancing up to the sky, and yelled, "Aaaah!" He shoved Angelina forward and pulled out from his waistband a signal flare which Lane had handed him before they took off. Launching it into the night sky, he turned and dashed towards Leit.
"Quick, princess, run! Run in the direction of the flare!" roared the shadow guard.
Angelina was thrust out a distance of nearly 20 metres from the shove. Picking herself up from the ground, she neither turned back nor allowed herself a moment to catch her breath. Instead, she bolted towards the direction of the flare. It was a stored Magic Missile, an entry-level spell, though it would require at least a low-rank to mid-rank Lehrling to engrave it on a bamboo signal torch. Angelina was no stranger to it.
"Oh! A breakthrough?" Leit grinned, amused by the miracle that hardly happened on the battlefield. The Faustian shadow guard before him had evidently progressed into a low-rank Knecht in this hopeless situation. This could also explain his ability to return and retaliate after extended periods on the run. Nevertheless, the low-rank Knecht was still but a measly ant to Leit, and besides. He was mere scrap whose expiry was long due.
Leit swiped his left hand past his waistband and the carmine scimitar appeared in his palm. He cast the blade in a beautiful arc and watched with excitement as the shadow guard charged towards him, as though he was an unexpected dessert after a delightful meal. "Continue chasing. Remember, don't hurt her!" Leit called to his surroundings. A defenceless woman like her would be a piece of cake for his Blood Red soldiers to tackle.
Angelina's heart ached for the shadow guard who practically walked to his death. She remembered that Lane was also this way. He was determined to dedicate his life to protect her and come face-to-face with the man in the blood-red armour, who was easily on par with himself. On top of that, there were those shadow guard soldiers who had shielded her not long ago, the maids she grew up with -- the list could go on. Angelina wiped the tears from the corner of her eyes and continued to scamper ahead. The Blood Red soldiers trailed closely behind her. With their speeds, it seemed they could readily catch up with Angelina at any time.
At this moment of crisis, Angelina recalled what her teacher had once said. "Every spell has an intended purpose and usage. It can either be used for experimentation or combat. A good caster should be able to apply the magic they know on themselves flawlessly." Currently, Angelina only knew three minor spells. In the laboratory, she had assisted her teacher by using Featherweight to lighten a huge beaker, Illuminate to light the spirit lamps on the alchemy table or lighting at night, as well as Cleanse for washing up. Although Angelina's clothes were ragged and soiled from the past two days, her body was still as smooth as jade, for she had secretly cast Cleanse on herself during her respites.
"Featherweight," Angelina chanted silently. Prior to this, she had used this little trick countless times on many apparatuses during experiments, but this was the first time she was using this spell on herself. I hope it works, she prayed. To her delight, Angelina was able to significantly quicken her pace. Though she was still far from being the Blood Red soldiers' match in terms of physique and impetus, she could at least run longer and struggle longer.
The brilliance of the white Magic Missile pierced through the night, and the creatures around the area were immediately awestruck upon noticing the flash of light, entwined with faint elemental essences. Angelina never expected the Magic Missile to be such a spectacular sight while launched at night.
Lane, whose face was dotted with numerous bloodstains, stiffened as he saw the gleam not too far away. After using the secret technique, Lane was rather overexerted; his blood vessels sustained varying degrees of damage and his aorta had even ruptured. The splatters on his face were results of the spurting blood vessels in his shoulder. At this point, Lane had lost close to one-third of his blood, resulting in the ossification of quite a few blood vessels due to a lack of nourishment. His muscles had become necrotic and rigid in large patches under the dual stimulation of the secret technique and impetus. Lane, though still in his prime, seemed to have aged a lot over this episode. As he spotted the beam of light on the horizon, his expression revealed a hint of vulnerability, but he soon regained his composure, once again overflowing with tenacity.
Kashir witnessed the gradual change in Lane's expression and noted his renewed resolve. He let out a sigh and planned to give this 'knight' a decent ending.
Lane mustered the last of his impetus. His voice hoarse, he bellowed as he took a heavy but unhesitating stride forward and dove towards Kashir. In his maroon armour, Kashir stood motionless, his expression under the mask unchanged as he watched the jarl of the shadow guard sprinting over. Just as the two were about to collide, Kashir thrust a pike. Plain sailing, the pike impaled Lane's throat before it was quickly withdrawn. A stream of blood spurted out, and Lane persistently staggered two steps forward until he plunged to the ground.
Locke and Solon were grilling a wild chicken sent by the soldiers by the campfire. The soldiers around them were seated in their squads, enjoying dinner together. Solon didn't mind sitting and engaging in small talk with a group of platoon jarls. As he gossiped on about the nobles, the prosperity of Bideslane, and much more, the bunch of rough men were utterly fascinated by his tales. Solon had come to the battalion after the bloody battle in Gordon Heights; he had resided in Bideslane for a long time before this, so he was considerably familiar with the place.
Locke listened absentmindedly. Whatever Solon said, he had heard more than once after he got acquainted with him. At first, he used to eagerly urge Solon to talk about it, as with other platoon jarls. People of civilian origin generally yearned for levels that they could not reach. But once they came into contact with it for real, they would discover that there was, in fact, nothing too peculiar about it. When he was the squad jarl, Locke was intrigued about the platoon jarls having dinner with the baron. Now that Locke and the baron had dined around the same table more than just once, he found that everyone simply ate and talked like normal. The baron now seemed less strict to him since they had grown closer.
The sky was enshrouded by gloomy clouds that concealed the moon. There were only minimal stars in the corners, shimmering in isolation as they announced their existence. A shooting star soared through the sky from the mountains in the distance, catching Locke's attention. However, he promptly noticed that the piece of chicken in his hand was already cooked on one side, so he hurriedly rotated it to roast the other side. Several years of field military life ensured every soldier developed good barbecuing techniques.
Wait, a meteor originating from the mountains? Locke's head snapped up at the sky. On the horizon, the dazzling light dissipated in the sky after exhausting every last bit of its energy.