Aleran woke up, and almost immediately, he and Kindrav started to prepare for what they had to do the rest of the day.
Today, they had to get away from these tunnels and the city in its entirety. Aleran didn't expect too much trouble getting out of the tunnels since it was harder to get in than out.
What he didn't know was if Oldre would be able to help them. They didn't have any bad blood, but they hadn't spoken much since they were introduced to the Crimson Claw. Though Kindrav seemed to still believe in the man, and that was enough for Aleran.
Nevertheless, to find him, they had to go to the living quarters where soldiers gathered. And once inside they could get easily recognized. The sad reality was that they didn't have any better options, almost any other plan he could come up with had similar chances of failure.
When the time came, they prepared everything they needed before going on their way.
“Today, we will have to play it by ear once more, Kin,” Aleran said as they prepared to leave the cube of dirt they called room.
“We always end up playing it by ear. The day you come to me with an infallible plan, I will eat this cloak.” Kindrav said while rolling his eyes and lifting his bag that carried his clothes and the stolen spirit stones.
“Hehe. Yeah, lately it seems that way. But today we are relying on Oldre and that he can get us past the walls of the city. If we can't get out today, then, there won't be any place where we can spend the night. And by the morning we will get caught.” Aleran paused as he also lifted his bag while mentally trying to craft a better solution to their current situation.
The time limit Aldra imposed was the main reason why they didn't have any other option but to move out without any preparation at all. Perhaps, it was better this way, who knew when Ibrak or one of the savages from the Crimson Claw would come knocking and asking for their spirit stones. And that was not taking into account that he had yet to explain yesterday’s incident.
Getting out of his own thoughts, Aleran continued to talk. “The streets are packed with guards and it’s impossible to stay long on the outside without being caught violating the curfew. If worst comes to worst, we will have to pass the night in the sewers. Though I imagine that if these tunnels blow up or something the sewers will be affected as well.”
Sadly, Aldra didn't tell him what the hell would happen after the formation activated, she just implied everyone inside would die. He had also thought of using the sewers to get out of the city, but through his divine sense, he discovered that when the sewers touched the wall, these would suddenly shrink in size. And coupled with a blockade of bars, not even rats could get in or out.
“Aghh, I'm not going back there, last night before you washed up I could barely stand your smell. It gave me nightmares later. It sounds much better to take our chances banging our heads against the wall, who knows, maybe the wall will crumble before we die.” Kindrav said half-joking and half-serious.
“Hahahaah. It was worse for me, I can still smell the shit with every breath I take. But, I'm glad we think alike in this one.” Aleran let out a burst of laughter he didn't know he needed. But despite being somewhat used to this kind of stressful situation, he had been so focused on finding another way out that he had been frowning all this time.
Both of them continued through the tunnels, they would come out close to the west gate where Oldre was stationed. The quarters for those who guarded the gate were a block away from the gate.
They will have to look for Oldre and cross their fingers that nobody recognized them. And also, that Oldre hadn't been dispatched somewhere else. The only thing they had going for them, was that when they operated on the streets, they mostly did it in the southern, northern, and central districts. Which meant there would be fewer guards who had interacted with them or who knew who they were.
The former tight cooperation between the Crimson Claw and the City Guard had become the biggest weakness for the gang. After the later became a scapegoat to blame for the attempt on the life of the City Lord, they were forced to show good results. Otherwise, when the real big figures start blaming them for not answering fast enough, they would have no excuses to argue back.
The tunnels continued to get bigger as they kept walking towards the chosen exit, but halfway there, when they turned to the left on one of the many interceptions, they were forced to stop.
“You seem to be in a hurry, boys.” A wall of men was standing right before them. All of them had unfriendly faces, but the most unfriendly of them all was Ibrak, who was at the back. He was pale as paper, and his robe was hanging loosely where his left arm was supposed to be.
It was him who spoke in an even tone while looking at Aleran. “You know, when you went out the other night I knew something was wrong. When have you ever been to a brothel by your own volition? You believe to be above that, I know it. And then, I go and find out you actually snuck away from the brothel.”
“What is this?” Asked Aleran with all the alarms flaring in his mind. He had thought that it would take more time for Ibrak to catch up on what happened last night. But apparently, he had underestimated how paranoid the man was.
Instead of resting in secluded meditation to recover, the man forbore some time to be updated on what was happening outside. And it seemed he had been tracking their movements. Thus, placing this ambush in this wide tunnel. One of the few places down here where numbers could make a difference. They could fit eight men standing side by side. And right now, there were two rows of eight and one of four, with Ibrak included, right behind them.
Ibrak didn't react at Aleran’s attempt of getting answers, he kept going with his monologue. “You caused quite a commotion up there, Aleran. Would you be so kind as to tell me what exactly were you doing in the central district? And think very carefully what you say, you can't afford to give a wrong answer.” Despite what he said, judging by the expression on his face, it was quite clear that no answer would please Ibrak at this moment.
“Hey! We did the job, Grujil himself said we could get out whenever we want. We are free to do whatever we want outside, aren't we?” Kindrav dropped the bag he was holding to the ground.
“Shut your mouth, filthy barbarian! I'm not talking to you. You can take those earrings off, but you will always be a filthy animal. It's in your blood, and like an animal, you should just behave or be put down.” Shredding all pretenses, Ibrak couldn't contain his displeasure anymore.
He had treated the barbarian well only because Grujil didn't mind him, being the descendant of a foreigner himself, the BIg Boss could sympathize with Kindrav. But to Ibrak, the difference between a normal foreigner and a barbarian was like that between heavens and earth.
Forgetting about Kindrav, Ibrak's gaze returned to Aleran, who was looking at him with those eyes he hated. He was appraising his every movement, even in this situation. Ibrak could almost see the endless possible scenarios reflected in his eyes.
“I'm asking you, you little piece of shit! Where did you go the other night? I can see it in your eyes, you are plotting something, and I can tell you it won't work. You are trapped like a rat now. You better spill out everything. What did you do yesterday? And if there's nothing wrong, you may be able to go with your head attached to your shoulders.” Ibrak’s cold voice echoed inside the tunnel, this was further enhanced by the silence the rest of his men made.
Aleran shook his head thinking, ‘This man has been holding some grudges for a long time, maybe he was wary of us but I failed to see it.’ Now, it became evident to Aleran that he hadn't seen how wary Ibrak really was of him. And last night's incident had given him the perfect excuse to act on his previous suspicions.
But on the outside Aleran just kept a calm facade, “I don't know why you are so insistent, but whatever. I just went to gather some rations and buy some clothes before parting.” He lied with the hope that it still existed a small chance where this could be solved peacefully.
“Then come with us to prove that what you are saying is true.” Ibrak nodded and took a step forward followed by all the goons next to him. Clearly, he was trying to capture them and maybe even thinking about torture, judging by the savage expression he was trying to hide. “You better not resist, I know where you two come from. Vast Sky Village, was it? If I have to, I assure you we can visit that place and take a look around.”
Ibrak didn't want this to turn into an open fight. Even though he didn't know how capable these two boys were at fighting. Other than what he saw in the pit when they first arrived, they were a mystery to him.
But they completed the mission too well for him to underestimate them, that's why he brought so many people with him. He was too weak to fight for a prolonged time right now. It would be better if the two boys just surrendered. His men were also tired and stressed, it would be best if all was solved without actually drawing their swords.
That would be the most sensible solution, even if Kindrav and Aleran got out of this by some miracle, they couldn't kill everyone inside the tunnels. And as long the Crimson Claw existed their family and friends would be in danger. Under these circumstances, there was no point in resisting.
The two boys before him fell silent.
“Oh, and I think the little Sarya is already in the Capital, maybe she would like to join us too,” Ibrak said, trying to strike while the iron was hot. He had gotten information about Kindrav’s whole foster family and had a rough idea of the place they occupied in his heart. The feeling of superiority he felt through these methods was something almost comparable to overpowering his enemies by raw force.
Then, Ibrak looked at Aleran and the sensation of superiority dropped. The boy was a fricking ghost, it was as if he had spawned out of nowhere. He believed that Aleran could be someone from a merchant caravan that got too greedy and tried to cross the Forest of Eternal Nightmares.
But he had no proof of anything, and almost nobody would be stupid enough to cross the Forest of Eternal Nightmares unless they had considerable power. What's more, the kid didn't seem to have any other close kin he wished to contact. Those merchant caravans run by one or two families never put all their eggs in a single basket. There was always someone who either stayed back or had another trading route.
Ibrak knew that Kindrav would send some letters to his foster father from time to time, but Aleran never did such a thing. Apparently, the boy was truly all on his own.
Upon hearing Ibrak's words, Kindrav's face turned various shades darker, but he said nothing. Only a quiet and constrained fury burned in the back of his eyes. Aleran felt a chill in his heart but at the same time a thought pop in his head.
'Sigh.' He sighed in resignation. Obviously, nothing would work at this point. So, Aleran dropped his bag to the ground and stood in position with Kindrav. There was no fear in his eyes, only a strange calmness mixed with a light that made even the twenty thugs halt their breaths. This was unshakable confidence. It was also his first time showing actual killing intent. These men were already dead for him.
“Hahaha. Okay, it seems you do have some ability. But are you really fighting us all?” Ibrak’s heart inwardly dropped. How confident were these two kids in their abilities? Did they really believe they could defeat every single one his men, and then defeat him?
He may be injured, but the only reason he didn't want to fight was for fear that it would take longer to heal his injuries. He didn't doubt for a minute he could kill these two petulant kids. Admittedly, with some difficulty.
That was his frame of mind until it shattered when he saw the confidence in Aleran's eyes. It was only a small change in his disposition, but this boy was worlds apart from the green kid that was introduced by that city guard.
Something happened that transformed him into the threatening figure before him. Or, was it that he was always this dangerous only that he had been hiding his sharpness, like a sheathed sword. If it was the latter possibility, then the kid was a true monster.
Doubts began to appear in Ibrak's heart. Doubts that soon became fear. Which was replaced by shame at being afraid of a pair of Heaven Opening stage kids. And very quickly, it all morphed into a wave of burning anger.
“Show them this is no place for kids to screw around, guys. Kill Them!” In his altered state, Ibrak forgot about the original plan of capturing them. There were still many questions he would like them to answer. But those inquiries were thrown out of his head the moment he lost his temper.
“Hehehe, with pleasure, boss.”
“We will get to kill the twin ghosts!”
“A short-lived legend, what a pity.”
“Sorry lads, this isn't a problem you can get away with hiding skills.”
The first row of eight started to advance as they mocked the two young men. Their faces showing the pleasure they felt to take down someone more famous than them.
But those words entered one ear and came out of the other for the duo facing the gangsters. Aleran's eyes shone with a strange light as he whispered to Kindrav, “ Kin, step back. At least ten steps. And don't take your sword out of its scabbard, that is very important.” As he said that he stood in front of Kindrav.
“What are you doing, Al?” Kindrav whispered back with a harried voice. He knew Aleran was powerful, but deafening twenty men plus Ibrak was madness, no matter the extent of Ibrak's injuries.
What's more, this was against their usual way of fighting. If Aleran had asked him to hold these men for a few seconds, Kindrav wouldn't have found that strange. He would have gladly bought time for Aleran and wait for him to kill a few later. But instead, Aleran was going to fight them alone.
The corner of Alerans lips curved upward, “Kin, you have never seen me going all out.” In fact, since the time he was escaping with Zarasen, he had never gone all out again. The biggest reason was that the conditions were never given. Many times, almost always, he was afraid of hurting Kindrav. But now, these idiots, with their mocking smiles gave him enough time to make Kindrav step back.
But the most important thing was that his understanding of how to use the images had increased. Every time he had used them in the past, it increased his ability and his efficiency. Right now he could transform almost all his inner qi into his image, instead of wasting it in creating the image and losing energy with heat.
His past experiences were not for nothing, as they now had become the source of his confidence. IN the past he could, at most, kill three or four men with this. But with the efficiency increased, he now could take much more than that.
“Hahahahaa. I can't believe it, you actually want to make your odds even worse?
"This kid wrong in the head?"
"There are many ways to become famous, and luck seems to be their way."
“You are thinking too highly of yourself, kid. But it's okay, we will have fun with you first.”
“STOP WASTING TIME AND KILL THEM AT ONCE!” Ibrak's yell put an end to the laughter of his subordinates. He didn't mind it at first, but for some reason, he got a bad feeling and the hairs at the back of his neck stood on end. Cold sweat started to gather at his back and for some reason, he took a step back.
Seeing his men in silence and starting to wield their weapons, that were mostly a bunch of swords and brass knuckles, he relaxed a little. But the unease was still there, so he took another step back.
“Thank you for giving me time, guys, you basically killed yourselves,” Aleran's cold whisper could not be heard by the laughing men. He raised his opened hands and didn't waste any more time.
Kindrav, who was behind Aleran, didn't move. He just stood in place grabbing the hilt of his sword, nervous, ready to unsheathe it at the minor hint of problems. But soon, he lost his grip on the hilt as he could only watch with wide eyes at the frightening spectacle in front of him.
“Kacha Kacha Kacha!” Unlike the many thin bolts of lighting Aleran used last time, these lightning bolts were less in number but very thick. And besides the buzzing noise of electricity, the sound of the air expanding due to the heat after being ionized could also be heard.
It was a sound these men could only describe as the sound of thunder. The air screamed in pain at the power of those white arcs of death.
The arcs of withe light meandered across the air between Aleran and the group of men in a mare instant. Leaving the bright light imprinted on the retina of those who were still alive to see them.
Almost half of the lightning bolts missed the targets, but there was always more coming and at such speed that it made no difference whatsoever.
It all happened in mare seconds. Aleran took only two steps forward while throwing electric arcs from his hands to reach those who were further ahead. That was all it took.
Almost fifteen men turned to black carcasses without having the chance to even scream. On some of those charred bodies, the traces of some self-confident smirks could still be seen.
The smell of burnt meat inundated the tunnel and smoke filled the area. It was a scene taken straight from hell.
"Huff...Huff...Huff" Now, a different kind of silence took place in the tunnel. A heavy silence filled with dread and fear. Only the heavy pant of Aleran could be heard.
Aleran didn't glance at the dead, he had no time to regard what he had done. He needed to rest, even while being almost at the Qi Circulation stage, he could barely handle the stress this attack put on his body.
On the other side, Ibrak's legs almost gave up at the sight he just witnessed, it all happened so fast that he could not believe it was real. Those few who were lucky enough to survive turned from ferocious fighters into frightening little animals.
Many questions ran through Ibrak's mind but he didn't want to hear them. He just wanted to wake up in a reality where he hadn't provoke such a monster.
He placed his gaze on the culprit of this madness, and finally, he regained some of his bearings. Because Aleran was panting. 'But of course, he is just a human. His qi was at most half-step into Qi Circulation.'
Although that last sentence was supposed to reassure him, it only served to frighten him even more. For a moment he thought Aleran was a spy sent by the Crown Prince himself, or even the descendant of a powerful family with an incredible blood lineage. But, besides that neither of those options made any sense, nobody would send someone so talented to such a dangerous place.
The myriad and chaotic thoughts running through his head converged into a single voice. 'Kill him... we must kill him now that he is weak!'
"He is tired and it's obvious he spent all his inner qi. Now is our chance!" Ibrak urged what was left of his subordinates. Only four pitiful and frightened men were spared. And that was because, just before the attack, they had taken a step back together with Ibrak. They had been able to tell that Ibrak had felt something wrong, and that saved them.
One of them was sitting on the floor from the jump scare he got. Another one was staring blankly at the front, clearly, he was in shock. But the last two were brave enough to step forth.
It took a kick to the one who was sitting next to Ibrak, to make him stand and go too. While the last one was woken up from his fear-induced coma by one of his comrades.
"HAHAHAHAHA!" A peal of laughter exploded abruptly inside the tunnel. " And here I was worrying for nothing, it seems I'm friends with a monster. Hahahaha!" Kindrav finally came out of his astonishment. After all, he was used at seeing Aleran defy common sense. Only that this time, Aleran had truly outdone himself.
"Huff, Huff, Let´s... Huff, let's do as usual now, Kin." Aleran said between gasps, taking a few steps back while the four goons stepped forward.
In a second, they had exchanged places, now it was Kindrav who was at the front while Aleran stepped down from the fight.
Ibrak was bewildered at what he was seeing. There were still four men at the Heaven Opening, thrid phase against them. No matter how tired Aleran was, the only reasonable action was to fight together. Ibrak doubted Kindrav had a similar power yet the kid still wore a confident smile on his face.
This scene also made his subordinates flinch and halt their advance. They were clearly traumatized by the previous events.
"Don't fret, you idiots! Do you think that kind of power grows in the trees? Only the other kid has it." In the end, they needed Ibrak to compel them to move.
Kindrav took his sword and stood in front of Aleran, watching the four men approach with caution. He couldn't help but chuckle at the furtive glances they sent to Aleran. Their state of mind would only help him.
"Ahhh" One of the four men finally couldn't wait anymore, preferring to move than to stay in silence and remember what had just happened.
With the first moving, the other three also took action. The first one had a short sword and went stabbing for Kindrav's chest. The second, a tall man with a long sword that was at his left, swung his blade going for Kindrav's head. While the other two just waited for openings.
Meanwhile, Kindrav never stopped smiling. Just when it seemed the swords would hit their intended target, he moved. With a swing of his sword, he parried the one coming at his chest and move it towards the one coming from his left. This movement was extremely effective as it blocked both swords with one elegant move.
But it also exposed his back and right side, and this flaw was exploited by the other two who pounced at him. One slightly chubby man flung his sword at him intending to cut from above and the other bald man slashed sideways almost at the same time.
But at that moment, Kindrav moved one more time with incomparable grace and a smooth flow.
Kindrav's body contorted with fluidity just at the moment the first man was about to swing down his sword. He kicked him in the chest with an immense force. And, that same movement, allowed Kindrav to barely dodge the sword that was slashing sideways.
As he incorporated himself in a standing position Kindrav's sword stabbed slightly against the leg of the bald man who slashed horizontally. But that slight touch was so precise that almost pierced through the leg, cutting the Achilles tendon.
In what was practically a single move, Kindrav had managed to injure two of the four men. Ibrak knew what these moves were, but he didn't want to believe it. Every move Kindrav made seemed to be a variation of his previous movement, and this made all his movements look like one single fluid motion.
Ibrak knew exactly what this meant, Kindrav had actually managed to merge the Flowing Water martial stance with his sword moves. It was still very rough, but the kid had managed to take a step into a broader path that few elites could walk at that age.
What unsettled Ibrak was that when he had seen him fight, back at the pit, the boy had no clue of how to use even a single martial stance. The training of martial stances was very hard to hide. The higher the mastery of the martial stance, the easier it was to notice it when the martial artist started to fight. And when they fought they would subconsciously show it in their movements, even if they tried to hide it.
This implied that in these few cycles, Kindrav had not only learned the Flowing Water martial stance, he even took it one step further and merged it with his sword moves. Ibrak felt like he was part of some collective joke, and his men were actually helping Kindrav and Aleran to make fun of him. If it weren't for the charred corpses on the floor he would have truly believed that.
And if he knew that Kindrav had only seen the Flowing Water martial stance up close only once, he may even suffer a heart attack.
He watched the battle with cold eyes for a while longer, in hopes that Kindrav would make a mistake or that his mind slipped up. But the more time it passed the more refined the kid's movements became. It was like seeing the training of entire Cycles, or even a year, in the span of a few breaths.
It continued until the point where one of the men lost an arm. Now the prospects of the battle were truly grim. ' I will have to make a move myself.' Thought Ibrak with a dark expression. He had brought men precisely because he feared that. But seeing Kindrav's monstrous improvement was starting to put him on edge.
These men all had unrefined moves, even though they had been a part of the army, they hadn't been real soldiers. These people were never part of the dragon, as the people of the army called it.
It meant that they were only helping the army as external forces, like mercenaries. But they were never part of any unit. For example, Oldre was part of the dragon scales, there were also the dragon claws, the fangs, etc. But these men had been part of the militia, which was practically a meat shield.
Maybe if Rogdo was still around,Ibrak would have hopes of these men killing Kindrav. After all, Rogdo had been a low-grade soldier of the dragon fangs and had some knowledge with martial stances.
"Sigh..." Ibrak took a step forward, but just as he was about to make a move, he caught sight of Aleran at the back. The boy was seated in the lotus position. And Ibrak thought he just wanted to rest his mind and body for a while.
But right at this moment, Ibrak saw something that took away his breath. Once again, he was flabbergasted. In this single fight, he had been startled more times than he had been in his whole life.
He could feel the turbulence of source qi surrounding the boy, and he could feel the massive amounts of it that were gathering towards him. He had never thought someone would have the guts to gather qi in front of his enemies. But with that speed it was possible. 'What kind of spirit veins does that little monster have? Is that speed of gathering source qi even possible?'
Despite his surprise, Ibrak didn't doubt for a second. He could tell that if he let Aleran alone, the boy would be back in his peak state in no time. That would spell death not only for his men but also for him. Gathering some force, he pushed with his legs and jumped over Kindrav and his subordinates, reaching the ceiling of the tunnel.
"Al, watch out!" Kindrav screamed the moment he saw the look on Ibrak's face. The yell reached Aleran just when Ibrak was high above.
And again, Ibrak pushed with his feet on the ceiling and propelled himself towards Aleran, striking with his palm. Inner qi gathered in front of his palm as numerous illusory fethers took form and went flying towards Aleran
On the other hand, Aleran frowned and opened his eyes while coughing a mouthful of blood. He didn't know where the attack was coming from, so he could only roll to one side hoping for the best.
Luckily enough, he avoided all the feathers, but one that clung to his shoulder. Even though the cloak could not be harmed by normal weapons, it seemed that images and qi could damage it.
Aeran didn't even bother to fight Ibrak. He had only been able to gather a little bit of energy and didn't want to waste it all. "Let's run!" Aleran yelled and started running towards Kindrav and the goons fighting. Kindrav put his sword back on his seat while facing the four thugs who by know were trying to survive more than trying to kill him.
With a wave of Aleran's hand, the swords of everyone shifted towards him only for a second. Destabilizing the men and even Ibrak who was behind. That small window of time was enough for Kindrav to pass by the four men who were trying to regain their footing.
In such fashion, both Aleran and Kindrav escape the encirclement.
Meanwhile, Ibrak, who was coughing blood, raised his head and started to chase. " Follow them! If they get out of the tunnels everything will get complicated!" He had immediately regretted having used his image, It forced his spirit veins and almost made him convulse. That's why Aleran could escape so easily.
But although some part of him wanted to catch them. Another part, hidden inside his heart, wanted to just let that monster go. He too had felt the tug on his metallic belt when Aleran waved his hand. The abilities of the boy never ceased to amaze him. And the other kid, the barbarian, was also nothing to scoff at, he was a monster on his own right.
He couldn't put what he saw under any category. Was Aleran using images with such a low level of cultivation? Impossible. Was that a bloodline power? Unlikely, because it manifested outside his body. And, had Kindrav always been practicing in secret? how did he learn so fast?
No answer could give him peace. He could only search in this maze of tunnels for the boys with a troubled heart.