"Agh!" Karl groaned in pain, holding onto his bloody right arm as he backed away. His face was pale, with big beads of sweat falling nonstop.
After Kashir repelled Karl with a single blow, he did not continue to attack him. Entry-level Knechts were just mere ants to him, while Angelina was his actual target. Kashir kept his blade away and continued his chase.
Their mission had been set back for too long. Blood Red was supposed to wipe out the shadow guards and capture Angelina swiftly, mainly because they didn't want the private army of the nobles to interfere, lest that allowed Angelina to escape. After a lengthy period of tracking her down, he finally found their target and killed the guards protecting her. Just as he was about to complete the mission, a group of Faustian troops came out of nowhere.
There were far too many variables. Kashir would never undertake missions he wasn't confident in finishing. If he dragged on, the potential for things to go awry would grow exponentially. He must capture Angelina immediately and leave.
Being pursued by a high-rank Knecht at full speed, Locke and the others seemed powerless to escape. Solon turned back and saw that the blood-red armored soldiers were closing in on them, and so were their deathly blades.
"Not good! Let's split up!" Solon shouted to Locke behind him. He was planning to abandon Locke. The soldiers' target was clearly Angelina, whom Locke was escorting. If they split up, the soldier would surely go for Locke.
He was not so righteous as to be living to live and die together with Locke. As the heir to the barony, he did not want to die so early. As for Angelina, he purposely forgot about her. Now that everyone was in danger, who cared about the princess? He was not a noble who was loyal to the royal family. In fact, those were far and few in between. Sometimes, the orders of local high nobles held more weight than those of the king.
Locke stared at Solon in shock. He couldn't believe that Solon, who had once called him brother, would give such an order. He was being asked to die in his stead. Although Locke experienced many dark things during his four years in the army, such as being bullied by his seniors he first joined the battalion, having his spoils stolen, and having his pay withheld by superiors, Locke had hardly encountered so obvious a betrayal. Even if there was, it would have been in private capacity.
The most important thing in a battalion was unity. This was where everyone could depend on one another.
Perhaps this is the difference in our stations, Locke suddenly thought. Locke himself had abandoned his subordinates and fled. Who was he to judge Solon?
Locke silently glanced at Solon. Then, he looked at Caen and Hans who had fought alongside him these few years. The two also understood what Solon meant, but they kept quiet as they could not say anything. Solon was their master and as mere soldiers, their only duty was to follow orders. However, they would not leave Locke, because they practically owed their lives to him. As a scout, Caen had been caught up in sticky situations several times, but Locke had brought reinforcements to save him. When Hans had collapsed in the battlefield, Locke had personally carried him back to camp. Hans and Caen were friends that would even die for Locke.
Of course, that relationship was mutual. During the bloody battle at Gordon Heights, He and Caen had supported each other and survived. Over the years, Hans, as his hometown neighbour, had also blocked many strikes that would otherwise kill Locke. At least a quarter of the scars on Hans' firm chest and back were from protecting Locke, since they often had each other's backs on the battlefield.
When life and death flashed before his eyes, Locke was certainly not as selfish as Solon. He took a look at Caen and Hans, and he knew what they were thinking from the look in their eyes. Nevertheless, he would not let his brothers follow him to his death in vain. The Blood Red soldiers were obviously after Angelina. Whoever had her was in the most danger and most likely to be killed. Locke could not give the order to let his brothers die. Besides, Solon had clearly ordered him to take Angelina with him and run off.
Locke glanced at Karl who had fallen onto the ground behind him. Karl had lost his arm because of them. "You two head back and take Uncle Karl along. I'll bring her with me!" Locke said decisively, and pulled Angelina onto his back.
Angelina was caught off guard, and squealed. Locke shot her a serious glance. Although her face was dirty, she was still a beauty to behold.
"No way!" Caen and Hans refused without thinking. At this time, they were no longer speaking as superior and subordinate, but rather friends that have gone through life-and-death situations together. The bond between Locke and his old ten-man squad was forged with their lives. Even after his promotion, Locke still kept in touch with Hans and Caen, despite them being ordinary third-rate soldiers. They were not even squad jarls. Right after Locke was promoted, he wanted to help them too, but it was beyond him. "Other things aside, the three of us are brothers. Within three months, I'll definitely help both of you to be promoted to jarls!" These were Locke's own words.
Those words should ring hollow, considering how low ranking he was, yet he uttered them with full confidence. It was not because he did not know where he stood. Rather, he wanted to be worthy and deserving of the brotherhood they offered him. If his brothers could place their lives in his hands and fight side by side with him, he had to be worthy of their trust and loyalty.
"Enough bullshit! Hurry up and go!!" Locke snapped. Swearing to his brothers was a first for him. "Get the hell away!" he spat as he kicked Hans and Caen. "Go and save Uncle Karl!"
After that, Locke carried Angelina on his back and ran into the forest to his left.
The forest with mountainous terrain and thick foliage was Locke's only hope now. The forest better be dense, Locke prayed. Unfortunately, even if the forest was dense this season, there were few leaves to help him take cover.
Angelina was a little overwhelmed by the shifting circumstances. First off, the man whom she suspected was a nobleman had dropped her like a hot potato and ran away. Before she could get mad, the rude grey-haired soldier next to her had dared to carry her directly on his back. Her chest was directly pressed against his back and Locke also plastered his hand on her hips. Angelina had never suffered so much humiliation all her life.
She blushed heavily, but before she could scold him, she was moved by the magnificent display of brotherhood between Locke, Caen and Hans. Previously, the shadow guards were desperately trying to protect her. The silent shadow guards had given her no other impression but their loyalty to the Kingdom of Faustian. Although Angelina had been touched as well, it was not as shocking as the raw brotherhood she had just witnessed. An admirable man this one is, she mused.
Perhaps he was trying to get his subordinates out of danger and bear it alone. This was surely rare even in Faustian.
When Locke first joined the army, he was already prepared to risk death at the young age of 14. Now, it was the last thing on his mind. The way he saw it, if he survived a year in the army, he'd have broken even. The money made after that was pure profit. At least, his contributions would allow his family to survive a famine safely after receiving his one-year salary and death pension. If he could send them two years' worth of his earnings, the family's living conditions would substantially improve. His parents and sister would not have to starve every day.
Although he had already made peace, he didn't want to go down without a fight. He still had yet to see his sister or form a stable family with Suzanne, so he did not want to die just yet. For the first time ever, his desire to survive flared.
"Hold on tight!" He violently agitated his bean-sized impetus vortex to circulate all his remaining impetus into his legs. The heat spread to his calves. "Run!" Locke began to sprint.
Angelina had not heard what Locke was saying. She was frightened by his sudden jolt and hugged him quickly. She had been well nourished since she was young, so her figure was rather filled out for her age. However, Locke did not have the time to enjoy it. He could not even feel Angelina's touch on his back. All his attention was focused on crushing the branches on the gravel road under his feet.
"Hmph! Trying to run?" Kashir contemptuously watched as Locke struggled in futility. He did not bother about Karl, whose arm he broke, or Hans and Caen. Kashir went straight for Locke.
Nobody can escape from the palm of my hand, Kashir thought confidently.
Run! Run! Run! This was the only thought on Locke's mind. The memory of his parents, his pining towards his sister, and his love for Suzanne fueled Locke's motivation to escape.
But it was a pity. There was too much difference in strength between the two. Kashir, a high-rank Knecht was just like Wyr. The pressure he emanated caused Locke to not be able to fathom the extent of his strength. The only thing Locke felt was despair.
The distance between the two continued to decrease. Although Locke had tried his best to run, the messenger of death did not seem to want to let Locke go.
Angelina saw Locke giving his best and she too burst with the will to survive. Her mana was exhausted, her mental power was overstrained, and she no longer had the ability to force magic out of herself. Yet, she did not want to give up, or it would feel like she lost to a mere commoner, as was apparent from Locke's hair colour.
With the last of her willpower, Angelina cast Featherweight on Locke. Angelina, who was exhausted to her limit, immediately lost consciousness. Before she fainted, she still clung onto him. She believed this man could create a miracle.
Locke, who was under extreme pressure, was a bit dazed. He did not even realise that he had become much lighter from all the tension. All he did was run, nothing else.