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“Brother,” the King’s voice showed no fear nor trepidation, only a little bit of hope. “Let my children go.”
Primus turned to Haver and Hadjar realized that they couldn’t expect anything good to happen here.
The look in the Warlord’s eyes was cold. He waved his hand toward the entrance. A black wind gusted out from his fingers. It slammed into the heavy doors and opened them as easily as if they’d been made of paper.
“Greet your new Prince, my son, Eren Duran!”
Once again, the room went silent. No one had known that the Warlord had a son. Eren looked to be at least four years old. He stood at the entrance, looking like a smaller, younger version of his father.
He had a cold look about him. Standing in a haughty pose, wearing black and gold clothes, the same as Hadjar’s, he really did look like a prince.
“Did you really think that Solar Ore could’ve been found with simple luck?” Primus whispered, approaching the thrones. “How easily you believed the fairy tale of a soldier falling into the pit, brother!”
He almost spat out the last word. Primus was so full of hatred and malice that they poured from his mouth.
“All this time..” The King shook his head. “How old is he?”
“Four…”Apparently, something had happened four years ago, but the Prince didn’t know what. He only remembered that his father and uncle had gone on a campaign at the time. They’d taken almost two hundred warriors with them, but less than half of them had returned.
Hadjar had never been told anything about that trip…
“It was an accident, Primus. Just an accident…”
“Shut up!” The Warlord swung his hand.
The same black wind from before now whirled in his palm. One glance at that miniature tornado was enough to make Hadjar dread what was to come. It had enough concentrated power to destroy the entire hall.
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Is this how I die?
“Run!” Haver spread his arms and a powerful rush of force threw his family toward a secret passage hidden behind the wall to the rear of the thrones.
Hadjar felt strong, but gentle hands lifting him up.
Elizabeth, taking the children into her arms, ran down the narrow corridor. She pressed Elaine to her chest and the Prince, because he was rather tall, she carried over her shoulder. This meant that Hadjar saw everything. He didn’t want to look, but ended up seeing it anyway.
He watched as Primus’ hand slowly moved toward the King’s neck. Slowly, but with the inevitability of an executioner’s ax.
He saw that the King had raised his sword to defend himself, and how it crumbled under the might of the black wind.
He saw blood coat the walls, the leather strap falling to the floor. With a metallic clinking, the inserts rolled along the now scarlet painted boards. Witnessing this, Hadjar felt something break inside him.
“Stop, Your Majesty!” Elizabeth’s personal bodyguards appeared ahead. As a matter of fact, all of them were females.
The Queen let out a sigh of relief and stopped, but a moment later, she was cursing the fact she couldn’t take out her sword without letting go of one of the children.
The warriors didn’t lower their weapons.
They looked at their Queen, their spears and shields held at the ready.
“Please, don’t make us do this,” the lead bodyguard almost begged her.
“What did he promise you?”
“What did he promise you?!” Elizabeth snarled at them.
Her green eyes burned with a mad rage and despair. Behind her, through the magical seals superimposed on the secret door, soldiers were already making their way through.
“That we’ll be able to become stronger,” one of the bodyguards said with mild anger coloring his tone.
“Stronger… Damn the world of martial arts! It turns animals into humans and humans into animals.”
“That’s enough, my Queen. Give it up.”
A thunderbolt struck somewhere behind them. Or so it seemed to Hadjar. In reality, Primus had hit the wall with his black wind.
“How long do you think you can elude me, Elizabeth?!” He laughed, moving ahead of the soldiers, now wearing green armor.
The Queen’s warriors stood in front of them—each was a fighter she’d personally selected. There were the Empire’s soldiers behind, their curved blades out. Her Majesty stood, paralyzed by indecision. At that moment, Elizabeth was no longer an adept or the ruler of a kingdom. She was a mother, and she didn’t know which of her children she should put down in order to use her sword.
“Run, mom!” Hadjar shouted.
He wriggled out of Elizabeth’s grip. Grabbing his ceremonial sword, which was tied to his belt and too big to be practical, he rushed toward the warriors. They were clearly weaker than the Imperials. In addition, they didn’t have a Heaven Soldier with them.
“Hadjar!” Elizabeth roared like a wounded beast, but it was too late.
The Prince slid under the lead bodyguard’s spear. What level of cultivation had she achieved? The Bodily Rivers? Maybe Formation? Possibly Transformation?
Hadjar didn’t care. He had a sword. Uselessly ceremonial or not, he could wield it. The East wind called to him, and his eyes saw the target.
His heart pounding wildly, he called upon his mastery of the sword, and swung the blade.
A barely visible strike answered his call. He bypassed her shield, angled himself toward the bodyguard, and sliced through the unprotected, narrow strip of skin between the bib of the helmet and the helmet itself.
The heavy helmet fell to the ground, and a moment after it, painting the floor and walls red—the warrior. An expression of extreme surprise would forever remain in her glassy eyes.
Not paying any attention to the fact that he’d killed someone, Hadjar continued his crazy, desperate dance. He dived under the spear of the nearest warrior. She’d already recovered from her initial shock and was about to hit the Prince with her shield, but he was faster.
Despite her experience, despite surviving hundreds of deadly fights, she was helpless against Hadjar’s talent and fury. He moved as elegantly as a swan across a lake, only needing to swing once.
He flicked his wrist and cut the bodyguard’s forearm tendon.
She dropped the shield with a crash, and Hadjar, pushing off of it, soared into the air. He flew over the warrior’s head, his blade moving so fast it left an afterimage in its wake.
Another body fell behind him, but the remaining bodyguards had managed to snap out of it.
Seven of them rushed in to attack him. They attacked from all sides, forgetting that they were trying to kill the Prince, not a ferocious tiger cub.
Hadjar jumped. His legs were strong and his body felt light.
He rose into the air again, evading all seven spears. Bouncing off of the spear tips, he once more swung his sword, and a ghostly strike from his blade found its target, going through the eye slits.
Another crimson spray of blood followed. The blinded warrior cried out.
Hadjar landed behind her and used her kneeling body to block several attacks.
Instead of hitting him, their spears embedded themselves in the body of their ally.
Despite how much had happened, all of it took only a couple of seconds. In fact, Hadjar had been moving so quickly that he’d been leaving behind black and gold colored, ghostly silhouettes. A seven-year-old boy managed to kill three experienced practitioners of martial arts with only four strokes of the sword.
The familiar voice tore Hadjar out of his rage and fear induced trance.
He turned around.
The ceremonial sword fell from his exhausted hands.
There was a lump in his throat.
Heavy, salty tears rolled down his cheeks.
“Hadjar…” A palm, shrouded in the black wind, had been thrust through the Queen’s chest. He could see it grasping something red and twitching.
The unconscious Elaine lay on the floor. She looked so small and fragile. Her hair covered her body like a thin, golden blanket.
Elizabeth took a step forward. Her clothes were soaked in blood. Her green eyes grew dim, and a weariness that made her seem older settled over her.
Hadjar ran up and embraced the fallen Queen.
At that moment, all the Prince could manage was to hold onto his mother tightly. He had no idea what was going on. His mind refused to accept reality.
“Promise me that you will never … enter the world… of martial arts.” Elizabeth’s body trembled as she awkwardly kissed her son on the cheek, and her last words were uttered with a sigh: “It brings only misfortune…”
Hadjar looked at his hands, covered in the blood of his mother.
The body of the woman who’d once given him a whole new world, meant the whole world to him… now lay at his feet.
The Prince didn’t remember how it happened, but it seems that he’d growled and rushed at Primus. He didn’t need his sword—he was ready to sink his teeth into the warlord’s throat. But Primus just grabbed the boy’s neck and lifted him into the air.
“I would advise you to kill them, Primus,” a dispassionate voice offered.
“They are my family, governor.”
“What about Elizabeth and Haver, then?”
“That had to happen. The country can’t have two kings.”
Hadjar clawed at his uncle’s hand, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t even scratch the Heaven Soldier. He didn’t have enough air—strange, alarming sounds filled his head and he started to panic as darkness encroached on his vision.
“Did you see his swordsmanship, Primus? If he lives, you can never rule in peace.”
Primus looked at his suffocating nephew. It would be so easy to squeeze his hand and send the boy to be with his father and mother again. And yet, he was his flesh and blood.
“Then I’ll make sure he never picks up the sword again.”
Hadjar, if he’d been able to, would’ve been screaming in pain.[Host is in critical condition! Irreversible damage has been dealt to the internal organs! The Meridian and Nodes are being destroyed!]
The governor watched without any emotion as the black wind tormented the body of the twitching boy. He still didn’t care what these cretins did. What mattered was that a steady stream of Solar Ore would be sent to the Empire. To be honest, the Solar Ore wasn’t that rich, and the metal made from it wasn’t the best, but…
Resources were very limited in this world and there was a constant struggle for control over them. The metal from the Solar Ore was one of such resources.
Maybe if he spent a couple of centuries working on it out here in the sticks, he would get the inspiration he needed for a breakthrough and reach the level of Knight of the Spirit.
The higher the stage of development was, the more valuable resources it required, the things, that were harder and harder to find.
Even while the exhausted son collapsed onto the bloodied corpse of his mother, the governor could only think about his own future. New horizons had opened up to him thanks to the new king of Lydus—Primus Duran.