Chapter 33
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The General greeted the soldiers with a gentle nod. She was immediately offered a fairly comfortable, hand-carved chair. After placing her spear beside her, she lowered herself into it, and with a wave of her hand, allowed the examination to continue.

She looked calm, confident and imperious, as befitted a General. Seeing a woman in such a high position was unusual to Hadjar, but wasn’t anything new to the locals.

And yet, he wasn’t looking at her, but at the son of the official-bribe-taker. The man looked the same as when Hadjar had last seen him. Except for the long, straight scar that now marred his cheek. He constantly tried to cover it up, but it was quite difficult to hide such a mark.

A white, thick line ran down his handsome face, and then further still, hidden under his expensive clothes. They were worth a lot more than what the General wore. This was probably why her son looked at the General with smug superiority whenever he was sure she couldn’t see him.

He clearly felt that he deserved to be the one commanding everything.

The first pair faced off in the makeshift arena. They were the girl, Ariel, who’d managed to pass the second trial by the skin of her teeth, despite being the most rested, and the undersized young man, who’d done the best of all of them.

The girl chose a heavy war hammer, and her opponent decided to fight with two daggers. He looked and moved in a way that left no doubts about his past. The former bandit had decided to join the army’s officer ranks. Maybe he’d been kicked out of the gang. Or they’d just decided to have one of theirs join the army.

That was something taken for granted around here. Large gangs would sometimes become official groups. They would just start to call themselves sects, and if they were organized like the mafia, they would be called family clans. One never knew whether a sect or clan was of the ordinary kind, or whether it was an ex, or even an active, gang.

“Begin!”

The General crossed her arms. If she hadn’t been wearing so much armor, her pose would’ve probably looked a bit seductive. But at that moment, she looked completely serious and businesslike.

Ariel, after taking a deep breath, rushed forward like a battering ram. The hammer didn’t look like a clumsy pile of metal in her hands, but a rather formidable weapon. When she swung it down with all her might, the powerful impact shook the ground, scattering sand everywhere. But the nimble boy wasn’t anywhere near the spot she’d struck.

He was ostentatiously picking his teeth with one dagger, while the second one was pointed at the girl's throat as he stood behind Ariel. Most people hadn’t even seen him move.

Only a few of them had been able to discern the vague silhouette that looked like a gray shadow.

Hadjar saw more: despite how ordinary the trick turned out to be, he was still impressed. Thanks to being at the eighth stage of the Bodily Rivers, the smaller man had been able to redirect all of his energy into his legs.

That allowed for The Measured Footsteps Technique to, even if for just a few moments, gain the properties of the Mortal Technique. This helped him increase his speed, and the young man was able to win the fight in seconds.

After all, no matter how strong your enemy was, if you were faster than them, you'd always have an advantage. Unless, of course, you got hit.

“Next!”

The next pair entered the arena after Ariel put the hammer back on the improvised weapons rack and walked dejectedly back to the area designated for the new privates. The second fight was quite long. One guy was wielding a shield and a mace, and the second one had a halberd. They'd already been fighting for over ten minutes before the officer stopped them.

In the end, they both joined Ariel.

Then came an archer, who was admitted to the officer ranks as soon as he fired the first arrow.

The army always lacked good archer practitioners, so they were very appreciated and valued highly. They were so welcome, in fact, that even the General awarded the guy a private nod of her head. Apparently, a very bright future awaited him.

People chose to use the staff a couple of times. It was a weapon the people from the villages and small towns used quite often. It was usually difficult to find good iron, and thus iron weapons cost a lot of money, which peasants rarely had. It was much easier to carve out a staff and learn how to swing it. However, one should not underestimate the real masters of the staff.

“Your turn,” the officer pointed at Hadjar.

A slender guy was chosen to be his opponent. Their fight was among the last ones. By then, the sand in the arena had already been scattered in places, exposing the trampled ground. Grass would probably not grow there in the next few years.

Blood stained the sand. Some of the competing people, who hadn’t blocked or dodged in time, had needed healers. They’d been taken to the large tents that served as the army hospital. Most of the time, the healers ended up dealing with open fractures and having to bandage deep cuts.

Various hammers, staffs, batons, and maces were the most popular choice. In second place were spears, throwing knives and daggers. The least popular were bows and swords. Those two were the most difficult to master and the most expensive weapons.

The two undisputed kings of the battlefield.

Hadjar and his opponent had been the first ones to choose a sword as their weapon. That intrigued all the spectators, whose number had, surprisingly, increased by that time.

The officers and soldiers alike had come to the arena as soon as they were able. Each of them, upon arrival, would kneel and greet the General. She rarely answered with a nod, mostly not noticing the people around her. She was too busy spectating the fights.

Hadjar’s opponent picked his weapon first. That immediately put Hadjar at a disadvantage, because the other combatant had had the chance to choose the best sword. In fact, it turned out that, among a dozen blades that hung by their cross-guards, Hadjar could not find a single sword of outstanding quality. They were all on the same level. Enough to swing around in a normal battle between two armies, but... no more than that.

Those blades would be of no interest to a cultivator. However, it was said that real cultivators could make do even without a sword. It was widely known that a person who had gone beyond the level of The Spirit Knight would gain the ability to concentrate energy so tightly that it was enough for them to move their index and middle finger together to make a phantom blade appear.

That kind of sword was much weaker than a real weapon, but still allowed a practitioner to use sword techniques.

Hadjar chose a classic sword. It had a narrow blade with two sharp edges. The blade was long and had an almost invisible, rectangular cross-guard. The handle, wrapped in calfskin, felt right in his hand.

Hadjar, walking around in a circle, swung his blade a couple of times, getting used to its balance and weight.

The enemy in front of him assumed a standard stance. His left hand, used both for balance and to help his aim, froze in the very gesture mentioned before. His index and middle finger were pointing upward and the rest were clenched in a fist.

Hadjar stood there casually, not assuming any of the ten stances he knew.

Ignoring his skillful opponent's condescending smile, he closed his eyes and felt the East wind caress his face.

How many years had it been since he’d last fought with a sword? It was probably in his past life. In one of his many lives.

“Begin!” came the familiar command.

Unlike the others, the swordsmen didn’t run around the arena like rabbits. They didn't yell at or taunt each other.

Hadjar remained in the same spot, enjoying the cool breeze blowing across his sweaty skin. He was standing with his eyes closed, having dropped his sword to the ground.

The enemy was approaching him slowly. Amusingly enough, he looked like a crab as he moved around on widely spaced legs, staying in his previously adopted position. His right hand was extended forward, exposing the blade of the sword like a scorpion’s sting. His left hand was raised above his head.

His opponent thought that he was facing an upstart peasant. Admittedly, one that had mastered The Measured Footsteps Technique. Apparently having some middling talent, he’d been able to learn it by spending time catching snakes. Probably considered himself a genius, after doing well in fights against the other villagers. That was the reason why the poor peasant couldn't even hold a sword properly.

He was different, however. He’d spent the last ten years attending the best fencing school in Spring Town. The Master there had even praised him and said that he was talented with the sword!

Hadjar’s opponent didn’t notice the spectators' mocking glances at all. They had already named him Crab in their minds.

Crab, as he’d been taught in school, moved his center of gravity to where the sword’s pommel was and immediately lunged forward. The tip of the blade whizzed through the air, flying at Hadjar who was still standing with his eyes closed.

 

 

Hello, friends! Here are really good news) 

Amazon PRE-ORDER is available! 

Unfortunately, my editor has turned out rather a slow and busy guy, but he still promises to finish editing in March. I hesitate, so the date of the Pre-order is on April, however, the day the book is finished, I publish it at once ) 

Thanks for your reading, reviews, and support!   I fill great pleasure getting your feedbacks ) 

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