༺ Hua Ran (3) ༻
– Clip-clop! Clip-clop!
The mounted bandits were speeding through the road on their horses. On top of the running and wavering horse, Hua Ran had to gasp for breath. The wind was cold to her skin and her hands shivered without moving the way she wanted them to.
As a side-effect of swallowing a portion of the peach tree, cold beads of sweat were traveling down her cheeks and she shivered every time those sweat drops came in contact with the chilling wind.
“You… What are you doing?”
Vacantly, she uttered the same cold words as usual but they sounded half-hearted and powerless.
“I heard you made some trouble while I was away. I came to save you while I was at it.”
“…You are wasting your time.”
She said with a gaze that seemed to be asking what the point was.
In truth, he had attacked the VIPs from Purple Hawk Academy and had kidnapped an Academy student. He was bound to be caught very soon. Regardless of Josephine and Chairman Eriu’s opinion, it was a matter of time for Korin and herself to be caught again.
Korin was skillfully maneuvering the horse with Hua Ran still in his arms.
The bad-tempered gaze and tone he had when attacking the carriage were gone, and Hua Ran could see through the small gap between the mask that his eyes were very calm and poised.
“You won’t be going through anything good if you get taken there.”
“That’s why I helped you. Any problems?”
“You… have nothing to do with this.”
“I do have something to do with this as someone living under the same roof as you.”
Hua Ran didn’t reply to him.
“We’ve arrived, boss.”
Before long, they were already out of the city and arrived at an intersection that either continued off to another road or the forest. There, Korin carefully placed Hua Ran on his shoulder and got off of his horse.
“Don’t forget the contract.”
“We will leave as many traces as possible and buy time, boss.”
Korin gave a purse of gold coins over to the mounted bandits.
“That’s the remaining half of the payment.”
“Thanks for the business, Mr. Immortan.”
“Live a normal life as good people. I hope we don’t cross paths again.”
“Of course. We usually do legal things for a living, you know.”
These people were mercenaries that he hired through the Intelligence Guild. Now, they would go as far away from the city as possible and draw the pursuers’ attention.
“…Do you think that will help?”
“About half-half, I suppose.”
Holding onto Hua Ran’s hand, Korin walked into the forest but in less than 10 meters, she fell to the ground.
“You don’t look very good. And your chains aren’t really on you either… Did they feed you something?”
“Wood from a peach tree, huh. I guess it’ll be hard for the next few days.”
It was a powerful sorcery tool that was critical against jiangshis. Even coming into contact with it was detrimental and she was only having flu symptoms despite consuming it, because she was Hua Ran.
Right now, she was even weaker than girls of her age. Her sweats were falling like raindrops; her shivering hands couldn’t function properly and she no longer had the lofty appearance of an absolute powerhouse.
“That’s fine. I’ll just carry you then.”
Without even giving her the time to be surprised, Korin lifted her up into his arms and started running forward.
Hua Ran was shocked by his sudden decision. They were running faster than a horse but she didn’t even have the time to worry about her chilly skin.
If it was Korin, he wouldn’t have trouble running while holding someone as small as Hua Ran. Even though the forest had unpaved and dangerous roads and a misstep could be detrimental, that mattered not to Korin.
“Let me… down. I can run by myself…”
“Don’t bluff. I know you can’t even walk properly. Well, you’re as light as a feather so you don’t need to worry about anything.”
That wasn’t the thing Hua Ran was concerned about. She was unsettled by the very act of having to completely rely on someone else.
Several emotions were being suppressed inside her throat: her pride that didn’t allow her to fully depend on someone else; her common sense that told her she should show gratitude at a time like this; as well as her mind that lingered on his mention of her weight.
The reason she swallowed all those emotions without letting them out was also in correlation with her pride.
And the reason why she somewhat liked his last remark about her being as light as a feather… was something she wouldn’t realize for a long time.
With the instincts of a beast, she simply expressed her faint sense of displeasure, but;
“You can do whatever you want later.”
Korin adeptly dealt with it as always.
His speed as he raced through the forest was already double the speed of a horse. As expected of a knight, even though his physical ability was still below Alicia’s despite being a Grade 1 Knight, Korin was still at the pinnacle of knights nonetheless.
He was already further away from the intersection than the mercenaries on horseback.
This was the reason why ‘knights’ were classified as living weapons, but… there was someone behind him that was approaching him regardless of his superhuman speed.
The black-haired pursuer was wearing the unique clothing of the east. The fairy of swords was running at the same speed as him through the dense woods of the forest with her eyes stuck on him.
“Slow, aren’t you.”
“It didn’t work huh!”
Korin was thinking how the mercenaries didn’t serve as a good enough bait but by the time he came to himself, a sharp dagger was already flying at him.
The dagger collided with a piece of stone. The stone with a rune letter carved on it crashed into the dagger at a rapid speed as they both fell powerlessly on the ground.
“A dagger from the start? I thought you were a nicer person though!”
Korin said, even though he had driven his carriage into theirs first.
While dashing at a speed faster than a horse through the dense trees, they each prepared daggers and rune-carved stones to throw at each other.
—! —! —!
—! —! —!
The stones and daggers traveled like lightning bolts.
The one who first allowed an attack in that ranged battle of the forest was Korin.
He frowned while looking at the dagger piercing through his shoulder. He had stopped 2 of the flying daggers by matching them with his stones but his last stone grazed past the last dagger. Even with the assistance of runes, there was a big difference in accuracy between stones and daggers.
“…Are you alright?”
“She’s not the type to put poison on her daggers so…”
“Do you think that was the last one?”
Countless daggers were floating behind Kang Yuhua like flower petals blooming in the sky. Those daggers, which had the power to suppress aura, rained down after a prediction of his path.
The daggers dug into the thick trees and leaves of the forest. After barely hiding himself behind a large tree, Korin placed Hua Ran down on the ground.
“Stay here for now.”
“Have you finally decided to stop running?”
Along with the weightless and quiet footsteps on the dry leaves, Yuhua approached the tree as Korin stood face-to-face with Hua Ran behind his back.
“I guess so…”
Since it was unlikely that he would be able to run away from her, Korin decided to fight her, as Hua Ran stared at that back of his with a set of absent-minded eyes.
The steel blade collided with the steelhead of the spear and created sparks along with various screeches.
The spearman carrying a silver spear poured a violent set of spear moves at the sword-wielding fairy.
Korin Lork’s spearmanship had a dominating characteristic. His distance control with the spear, constant stabs at the weakness as well as his destructive swings.
Each of his attacks was seasoned and menacing. He was an expert of spears, and even Hua Ran could tell that every one of those skills must have required countless repetitions and a back-breaking amount of effort.
Hua Ran turned to the blood relative of the original owner of her body. She was a feeble-looking girl that was at least a head shorter than Korin. It would only make sense for the fairy of swords to barely hold off against the merciless torrent of the spear but…
Parrying the stab away to a side, she easily pushed away the incoming shaft of the spear. Over time, it was Korin who had to retreat after every attack.
Her attacks were heavy.
In terms of appearance, she should be a lot weaker than Korin and yet each strike of Yuhua’s sword was oppressing and pushing him back.
After a short breath, Korin took another half a step back.
Twisting the spear in his hands into a diagonal angle, he parried Yuhua’s sword to stop her from closing the distance.
The air popped like a bomb. Sparks erupted from that attack and Korin was pushed back by 10 steps.
The identity of that destructive weight was the highly dense aura covering Yuhua’s blade. The ridiculous supply of aura made it visible to the naked eye and was powerful enough to push the opponent back from just a short contact.
The strongest knight of Purple Hawk, who was also called the fairy of swords, had the Aura Rank of 『High』. In other words, it meant that she had an Aura Core that she gained through a legitimate method.
“You… You should have an Aura Core as well. Why aren’t you using it?”
But Korin Lork wasn’t too different from her. In fact, he had double the Aura Cores of Yuhua. There was one he gained after consuming the White Silver Mandrake, as well as the Aura Core of a demonic nature that he inherited from Sebancia Duke, the great hero.
“It’s not my original one, you see.”
However, because he didn’t earn them using the legitimate method, the usability of his cores was very limited.
The Aura Core from the White Silver Mandrake was his very last resort that he had to keep until the very end, and the Core of demonic nature was like a treasure box he couldn’t open. Like a closed-off pot, it contained a bunch of aura but he couldn’t open the lid.
Well, he might be able to if he wanted to force it open but… he had an instinctive feeling that this core was slightly different and was thus choosing not to.
Thus, the only aura he could use right now was that of his own. It was therefore inevitable for him to be pushed back by Yuhua, who was at the level of 『High』 for both quality and quantity.
“Well, sure. If you are holding back… that means I just have to force it out of you.”
Yuhua charged forward like a lightning bolt as Korin activated his secret arts in response.
Ominous Snake: Secret Arts – Distorted March
The spear carried out three sharp stabs. Like a gymnast, Yuhua dodged those fiendish stabs by jumping into the air on the spot. Her movements were refined and light as if there was no weight to her body.
As soon as Yuhua collected her breath and quietly landed behind Korin for an attack—
Spinning Heaven: Second Move – Rotating Demon Spear
The spear rotated at a tricky path at the foe behind his back. Right when the spear was about to travel up after digging through the dry leaves of the ground,
She trampled on the neck of the spear with her right leg, causing the spearhead to dig into the ground.
The spearman’s final resort had been blocked, which meant all that was left was his defenseless back. Yuhua stabbed at his back like lightning.
『 ᚲ 』 – Kenaz.
But it was then. Flames soared up from the ground beneath. The rune stone that Korin had dropped on the ground during their first bout had just then been activated with the silver spear.
Yuhua had to jump back to dodge the soaring flames. Without letting her distance herself again, Korin chased after her with a sharp stab.
But Yuhua was also prepared to fight back as soon as she landed on the ground.
In that split moment, the head of a venomous snake collided against the sword that threatened to behead a dragon.
Two-faced Ominous Snake: Dragon Blood
Dragon Slaying Sword: Second Move – Killing Stab
Their bout lasted 1 second.
Even after the clash of their powerful moves, they passionately continued swinging their weapons and collided 7 more times in just 1 second, as the aftermath of their aura flung the two away.
Korin skidded across the ground whereas Yuhua flew off into the air.
After barely keeping himself on his feet, Korin gazed up at Yuhua who gently landed on a twig of a tree that was less than 1 centimeter thick.
Both of them had discontent looks on their faces.
That attack just then was supposed to be the deciding move for both of them, and they weren’t expecting their attacks to be completely offset without leaving any wounds on their foe.
The spearman and the swordswoman unintentionally ended up creating a distance as they began to quietly glare at each other. Eventually, Yuhua couldn’t help but raise a question.
“Why are you trying to protect her?”
“What do you mean, I wonder? I’m just a kidnapper.”
“…Playing with words, aren’t you. I am her cousin.”
“Ohh~. Can I talk about the ransom then? I’ll think about releasing her if you give me 1 billion white gold coins.”
Ignoring the words of the self-proclaimed kidnapper, Yuhua continued with a frown.
“The one behind you is a demon that stole the body of my younger cousin, my sister. It is not worthy of your sympathy, Korin Lork.”
“…Like I said, I’m a kidnapper. My name is Immortan.”
“A spearman of your level is not going to be that common. Did you really think you could deceive your way through?”
Korin didn’t reply, suggesting that he wasn’t going to admit his identity ever.
“That is a demon, and not a human – a wicked and heartless Yaksha. Don’t tell me you don’t know about the disaster that hit Moonlight Castle.”
Of course he did.
It was the infamous incident where one of the castles of the conquerors of the east, the Empire, was destroyed single-handedly by Hua Ran with tens of thousands of casualties.
Sa Jinhyuk was one of the victims of that incident. He lost his sister and mother, and Kang Yuhua lost her cousin due to Hua stealing her body.
“The guy responsible for everything is somewhere else, and yet they’re just fighting between themselves,” Korin murmured.
“What was that?”
Korin wasn’t expecting to be able to persuade her here. Even if he were to share all the things he knew from the game, they would sound like nonsense without any evidence to back them up.
“Hey, Miss Kang Yuhua. You know what?”
“The dojos in this place are quite brutal. They challenge other dojos every time, and it’s just crazy!”
“What are you…”
Fastest Slash, Instant Flash.
An aura shot forward like a blade of wind. Yuhua jumped from the twig after noticing the attack but the blade of wind had been aiming at the twig beneath her feet in the first place.
The twig fell on the ground. Yuhua gently landed back down on the ground as if nothing happened, but her face didn’t look very bright.
One of the successor candidates of the Arden family, Alicia Arden, was slowly walking up to her.
“Now you’re just blatantly trying to…”
“H, Head Instructor of Alicia Dojo, Alicia Arden! Hereby requesting the Sword Lord of Purple Hawk, Kang Yuhua, for a friendly duel!”
The duel request came suddenly out of the blue. That shameless and brazen statement made Kang Yuhua turn speechless.
“Woww~. As expected of elegant sword users, ey! Requesting a duel at a place like this? You guys are very passionate!”
“D, do you think this makes…”
“President Kang Yuhua! I, I have been admiring your abilities for a long time! Please teach me a lesson!”
Alicia said in the midst of her dash after unsheathing her sword.
“Do you think something like this is okay!”
“I don’t know who you might be, Mr. Kidnapper, but please continue on with your business!”
“Oh dear, what a kind and gentle lady. I wish the two of you all the best! Farewell!”
The scream echoed across the forest but it failed to reach the ears of the thick-skinned Immortan Lork.
“U, ughh… I, it’s my defeat.”
The fight was very one-sided. It was a complete defeat of Alicia Arden.
It was partially due to the difference in the two’s capabilities, but the most important factor was that Alicia quickly admitted defeat without even fighting till the end.
“W, well then. Let me take my leave!”
It seemed that Alicia wasn’t as thick-skinned as Korin; she hurriedly ran away after a quick farewell. Seeing that, Yuhua gave a sigh.
At this point, it was too late for her to chase after him. The forest full of demonic beasts outside of Merkarva City was massive, and she would most certainly lose her bearings if she were to go deeper into the forest by herself.
On top of that, a thundering layer of dark clouds were coming her way. Even though she was a knight, chasing after them through a forest in a weather like this wasn’t a wise option.
“Firstly, I should go back to Uncle Kang Ryun…”
『The guy responsible for everything is somewhere else, and yet they’re just fighting between themselves.』
Throughout her way back, Kang Yuhua reflected on that implicative murmur of Korin. Wondering what he meant by that, she started ruminating over those words.
Darkness befell the forest.
– Kugugung! Kugung!
Rain fell with a thunderous roar. What was fortunate was that there wasn’t a tornado accompanying the storm, but the two civilized people that visited this barbaric forest ended up being drenched by rainwater.
“Huu… I have no idea if I should say we were lucky or unlucky…”
This storm was definitely a plus for the escape, because it would play around with the sharp senses of the securities and knights that were chasing after the kidnapper. The sharp raindrops were splattering all the way to my ears so it might even slow down the pursuing process itself.
But what was unfortunate was that the kidnapped hostage wasn’t in a good state.
“Are you okay?”
She didn’t say yes as if that wasn’t an option. Her sweat was mixed with the rain and at this point, I couldn’t even tell which was sweat and which was rain.
“Let me measure your temperature.”
Hua Ran was gasping for breath with a vacant and dreamy look on her face, so I rustled her hair and lifted her fringes to place the back of my hand on her forehead. It was fairly hot.
“You have a high fever.”
I took out the ‘made-by-Marie’ elixir from my bag.
“Open your mouth.”
Supporting the back of her neck with my left arm, I poured the elixir down her throat. Like a baby bird receiving a bug from its mother, Hua Ran barely opened her mouth to swallow the elixir.
“Good girl, good girl. Drink it away.”
“You… Be quiet.”
She looked a bit better after swallowing the elixir, but this was just a temporary measure. This probably wouldn’t last long if we couldn’t find shelter from the rain.
“Hmm? Do you want some food?”
Her eyes were on my bloodstained right arm.
“Don’t worry. It’s all healed back up now.”
Regeneration was a really convenient ability after all.
“Let’s find some shelter from the rain first. There should be a place nearby that we can use to hide from it.”
There were a bunch of ancient and old trees in this place. These old and thick trees were so stubbornly strong that most axes couldn’t even cut through them, which was one of the reasons why Merkarva City was reluctant to deforest this place.
“It’s the habitat of demonic beasts after all. There is definitely going to be one.”
Carrying Hua Ran in my arms, I continued walking through the dark forest before coming across a tree I was looking for. The old tree looked the same as other ones but there was a big hole on it, as if it had been eaten by a large bug.
“This place is the habitat of owlbears. When there aren’t any caves nearby, owlbears dig into large trees like this to create their nest.”
It was general knowledge that was passed down to guardians that frequented these types of forests.
Actually, the reason why that was passed down was to have guardians immediately run away from the spot after seeing an owlbear’s nest but here, we used that knowledge to find a shelter to hide from the rain.
“Quite spacious right?”
Because it was the nest of an owlbear, it was relatively deep. There was enough space even after Hua Ran and I both went into it.
“…Surprised it doesn’t collapse.”
She said after personally coming into the large hole.
“The old trees that owlbears use as their nest have long and deep roots going in all directions, so it doesn’t fall even when they dig down this deep. I guess that’s one of the wisdom of animals.”
The hole was very dark. I wondered if I should create a rune to light up the inside, but decided not to because there was no reason to irritate the beasts of this forest.
If we were lucky, the owner of this nest would come back sometime soon so I chose to wait for the time being.
The thick dark clouds and the leaves of the forest were stopping the moonlight from seeping into the forest. The occasional lightning bolts were the only source of precious light that allowed us to see the surroundings clearly.
Light flickered outside which let me see the look on Hua Ran’s face. It was only for a moment but I could tell that her face still wasn’t looking great.
I could also tell from our touching skins that she was shivering heavily from the cold.
“This is not good.”
Saying that, I kicked off the ground when Hua Ran turned her gaze towards me.
“Where are you going…”
“To catch a bear.”
Because I wanted to create a blanket out of it for her, of course. There should be a bunch of owlbears nearby so it shouldn’t take long.
It was then. She tightly gripped onto my pants after seeing me stand up.
Lightning struck outside as light seeped into the hole. The girl with a pale face was shivering profusely in fright.
Wearing drenched nun clothes, Hua Ran said while gazing up at me with a desperate look in her eyes.
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