Published at 12th of August 2019 08:30:02 PM

Chapter 6

Standing on the road before Arran and Master Zhao were six men . They looked like soldiers or mercenaries, carrying swords and axes, and wearing battle-scarred armor .

Arran tried to control his fear, but only partly succeeded . "Are they from the Academy?" he asked, voice shaking .

"Just some common bandits," Master Zhao said dismissively . "Deal with them . " He did not seem the least bit concerned .

"Deal with them?" Arran's eyes went wide . Even if the men weren't from the Academy, there were six of them, all armored . And Master Zhao expected Arran to deal with them?

There was no time for Arran to object . Already, the men were in front of them .

"We'll take the cart and the horses, and any coin you're carrying . " The man who spoke was tall, with a bald head that bore several deep scars . "Hand them over, and we'll let you leave with your lives . "

"We can't do that . " Arran had drawn his sword and was standing in front of the six men, alone .

"Kill them . " The bald man said the words calmly and without hesitation, as if he had ordered the other men to butcher a chicken .

Immediately, one of the bandits rushed at Arran, raising an axe above his head .

Before the bandit could bring down his axe, Arran's sword darted forward, tearing through the man's throat . Blood gushing from his neck, he collapsed, face twisted in shock .

Arran did not have time to savor his victory . Instantly, the sword of one of the other bandits came crashing down toward him . He barely managed to parry it, but the force of the blow made him stumble backward .

He feinted toward the bandit's face and the man flinched, raising his arms . Before he could recover, Arran hacked into his wrist with a fierce cut .

The bandit's blade was sent flying, severed hand still grasping it . Arran followed up with a sharp thrust to his opponent's face, his sword plunging a hand's length into the man's right eye .

A third bandit stumbled back in shock, clearly not having expected the young man to put up such a fight . Before he could move out of range, Arran's sword cut deep into the side of his neck .

Arran yanked his sword free, and the bandit's bleeding body fell to the ground .

Stepping back, Arran breathed loudly . Without thinking, he had relied on the techniques Master Zhao had drilled into his head during the past three months .

Only now did the gravity of the situation set in, and Arran's body trembled as he felt his heart pound in his chest .

Undeterred, the three remaining bandits stepped forward . Moving deliberately, they spread out around Arran, one on either side of him, with the third — the tall bald man Arran thought was the leader — at the center .

Briefly, Arran had hoped that the deaths of the other three would send these men running in fear . Instead, they seemed to have been filled with a cold rage .

The bandit on Arran's right moved suddenly, his sword swinging at Arran in a brutal slash . Arran very nearly botched his parry and came close to being cut down right there .

At the same moment, the bandit on Arran's left struck at him with an axe, exploiting the opening the man on his right had created . With his sword occupied by the first man, there was nothing Arran could do to block him .

Arran thought his final moment had come, but somehow the man missed, instead stumbling as if he had tripped . His momentum carried him head-first into the other bandit as he fell to the ground .

The man with the sword managed to stay on his feet, but it took him a moment to regain his balance . A moment was all that was needed . Arran struck several wild cuts to his neck, and he went down .

In the blink of an eye, only the bald leader remained standing, his expression filled with murderous intent .

The bald man did not hesitate in attacking . Immediately, his sword swung forward in a slash that Arran only narrowly parried . Without a moment's, pause he struck again, then again, leaving Arran no time to recover as he stumbled backward .

Arran knew he was losing the fight . Any moment now, the bald bandit's sword would slip past his defenses and bring him down .

Recognizing that he could not continue like this, Arran suddenly unleashed a series of wild blows . The man parried them with ease, but before he could counter, Arran suddenly rushed forward, ramming his shoulder into the bald man's chest .

The bandit staggered, and Arran saw an opening . Before the man could recover, Arran's sword found his neck, cutting clean through . The man's bald head toppled to the ground, and his body collapsed next to it . Blood began to spread out over the road .

Arran stood motionless, panting . He was still alive .

Suddenly, a yell sounded behind him . When he turned around, he saw a man lying on the ground with a large hole burned through his chest . It was the bandit with the axe who had stumbled earlier .

After defeating the leader, Arran had forgotten all about the man .

"Next time, don't be so careless . " Master Zhao's voice was calm, sounding no different from when he instructed Arran .

"Why didn't you help earlier? I almost died!" Now, with the danger finally gone, Arran found himself flooded with the fear and anger he had suppressed earlier .

"You think I didn't?" Master Zhao responded calmly .

Arran fell silent, remembering the man who had stumbled just as he was about to hit Arran .

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"That was you?" he asked .

"I intervened several times," Master Zhao replied . "You didn't think bandits were usually this slow and clumsy, did you?"

"Then why did you make me fight them?" Arran asked the question, but he already knew the answer .

"No amount of sparring can replace real combat," Master Zhao answered . "With these men so willingly offering themselves up for your education, how could I reject their generosity?"

With a sigh, Arran turned to look at the aftermath of the fight .

He felt little sympathy for the men whose bodies were now lifelessly strewn across the ground . His father had died to a bandit's arrow less than a year earlier, and to his mind, every dead bandit was an innocent life saved .

Nevertheless, the sight shook Arran . Just moments ago these men had all been alive . Now, they were dead, and by Arran's sword .

It took him some moments to regain his composure .

"Time to collect your earnings," Master Zhao finally said .

Arran knitted his brows . "Earnings?"

Master Zhao pointed at the bodies on the ground . "They should be carrying plenty of ill-gotten wealth," he said . "Not to mention the loot they have at their camp . I imagine it shouldn't be far from here . "

Arran went through the men's possessions, trying not to be sickened by the stench of death .

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Eventually, he gathered up their weapons, as well as a nice bit of coin . The armor he left behind . Valuable though it might be, it was covered in blood and gore, and the mere thought of stripping the armor from the corpses made him queasy .

After that, the search for the bandits' camp was a short one . They found it just a few hundred paces from the road, barely hidden among a copse of trees .

As they searched the camp, Arran quickly excited . The bandits had left a small fortune behind in jewelry and other precious goods, and it wasn't long before his pockets bulged with gold and silver .

Arran's excitement dimmed somewhat when he reminded himself where the bandits had gotten their possessions, but that did not stop him from taking them .

"Now this is interesting," Master Zhao said, holding up a green jade amulet .

To Arran's eyes, there was nothing special about the amulet . It looked somewhat valuable, but no more so than the other jewelry they had found .

"What is it?" he asked .

"It's a Memory Amulet," Master Zhao answered . "Mages use them to store spells and techniques . And this one…" His eyes went blank for a moment . "This one is filled with enchanting techniques . "

Looking quite pleased, he tossed the amulet to Arran . "Keep it . In the future, it might come in helpful . "

"I can't use it now?" Arran asked .

"It requires magic to use," Master Zhao explained .

He gave Arran a thoughtful look .

"But perhaps…" Master Zhao hesitated . When he finally spoke, it sounded as if he had reached a decision . "Perhaps it's time that you learn magic . "