Fourth release of the week!

Darn it, are they no longer bothering to hold back? thought Lorist hatefully.

Reidy was Lorist's first disciple and, in some sense, he was one of the people Lorist trusted the most alongside Howard. Those two held a different place in Lorist's heart than Potterfang, Charade, Els, and the others.

While Reidy was only a one-star silver rank, he wasn't training in battleforce. Instead, he was practicing the Dan Ocean Ki-Refining Technique, which Lorist had passed down to him, so he was especially close to Lorist. Naturally, Reidy had no way of knowing that the internal techniques he learned were from Lorist's family in the previous world. He was instead told that they were passed down from the days of the eastern combat monks.

As Lorist's eldest disciple, Reidy had never let him down. In fact, Lorist had expressed more than a couple of times that his disciple was more talented in training than he was, having only taken around five years to break through the bottleneck that was the third level of the technique and approaching the fourth.

As the Dan Ocean Ki-Refining Technique was an internal technique passed down in Lorist's family of his previous life, it was the only one that non-family-related disciples were allowed to learn. It was easy to start and hard to master. The first two stages were rather fast on the pickup for most. But only very few actually manage to reach the third level and approach the peak of the Bright Stage. Breaking through to the fourth level signified one's arrival at the Dark Stage. As for the fifth, Lorist had heard his grandfather mention that only one disciple had ever managed to reach it, at the end of the Qing dynasty, and became a grandmaster. However, they had lost all contact with him after he joined a resistance movement against foreign invaders. He was never heard from again.

Reidy was already near the fourth level and, according to Lorist, was already beyond the abilities of gold-ranked swordsmen. However, he was still a little shy of the level of blademasters. This was Reidy's true talent. Lorist himself had taken more than ten years to reach the level of blademasters after a dozen years of struggling and his fair share of near-death experiences, but Reidy only used five years to catch up.

However, breaking through to the fourth level required understanding and insight. At first, Lorist had wanted Reidy to go adventuring on his own to expand his horizons. Unfortunately, almost all the house's knights went into secluded training at once, including Lorist's personal guard, Jim, so Reidy was left with no choice but to take up the position of Leader of the Guard until Pak could come and relieve him. By the time Els broke through to become a gold-ranked knight, Duke Fisablen's knighthood tournament was just around the corner. Reidy participated in the swordsmanship section and managed to win.

Finally, after the bulk of things stabilized, Reidy was able to travel the continent. He had planned to travel by land all the way to Morante before going to the Romon Empire where his hometown was. The whole journey was estimated to take around two years. When Tarkel found out about it, he had Reidy go to the four central duchies to help solve some troubles Furybear agents were having due to the local criminal syndicates.

Reidy had seen much during his time as the guard captain and knew that the unit carried out many covert operations. For instance, he helped Tarkel wipe out a few underground syndicates when they were in Windbury. Reidy agreed without contest to help him once more. While most of his objectives in Handra and Farkel were completed without issue, he ran into trouble in Handra's capital when he tried to deal with a crime boss.

The boss ran a large inn and was also a relative of one of the duchy's counts -- a complete weakling. The count's wife had an affair with Duke Handra himself. While it wasn't spoken about in public, it was not much of a secret either. The crime boss was the count's elder cousin and profited the count's adulterous wife quite a bit. He collected protection money, threatened merchants, and ran brothels and scams in the capital, Nawulis.

Tarkel attempted to infiltrate a couple in their fifties as his informants. They were locals and had two sons who helped out with the family leather trade. During the civil war, they escaped when the first prince attacked and ended up heading to The Northlands with the northbound convoy when they passed through the Andinaq kingdom. Their two sons joined the Norton forces. The eldest was now a squad leader and would soon be promoted to a household knight. The couple, having started to miss home, wanted to visit it, but their two sons were reluctant to accompany them. When Tarkel found out about it, he had someone act as the younger son to accompany the couple back home.

However, when they made it to their hometown, they realized their home had been occupied by the local crime boss. When they confronted him, they were told their whole family were considered deserters who had abandoned the duchy in times of trouble. The couple left with a beating in the place of their house and all their belongings were taken. The moment word got back, Tarkel fumed with rage and issued an assassination order on the one responsible. He asked Reidy to uproot the whole syndicate.

Thus, Reidy began on his path of bloodshed across the taverns and brothels owned by the crime boss. By the time he was mostly done with the minions, he began to seek out the man himself.

Unfortunately, he encountered the noble envoy of Duke Fisablen who was lodging at the inn belonging to the crime boss. The envoy was a very close nephew of the duke himself who recognized Reidy as one of the victors from the knighthood tournament and knew he was a member of House Norton.

If Reidy had stuck to killing the crime boss and jumping out the inn's window to escape, that would be the end of it. However, due to his constant stream of victories over the last two years, Reidy developed a sense of arrogance that prompted him to leave at his own pace after slaughtering the crime boss in broad daylight. He bumped into the Envoy.

The envoy was stunned and asked why Reidy was there before he assumed he was actually there to spy on him. As he was there to represent House Fisablen to negotiate a trade deal with the duchy, he was under the impression that his mission was a grave one and jumped to the conclusion that Reidy was, in fact, tailing him. He ordered Reidy's capture without a second thought, accusing him of being a spy in the process.

The moment the few nobles and guards following the envoy heard his command, they roared and drew their weapons. In a fit of rage, Reidy killed everyone, which included half of the group the envoy came with. When he saw the envoy attempt to escape, he leaped and drove his sword through him before leaving nonchalantly. The whole duchy was in a state of panic as a result.

Having one's envoy killed was no small slight on a noble's reputation. Additionally, the man was the duke's nephew, not just some disposable noble, so the very least the Handra authorities could do was capture the murderer. Duke Handra raged and sealed the borders before launching an extensive search.

At first, the ones sent to confront Reidy were mostly local garrison soldiers. Every time he intended to resupply at a town, he would be entangled by its guards, not that he minded much. However, when one of the gold-ranked knights fell at his sword, the Handra duchy began to deploy military personnel before ordering all towns and villages to forbid all lone travelers from entering. At the same time, they sent a rank 1 blademaster out as well.

Reidy's journey began to go south. While garrison soldiers were easy to deal with, he couldn't do much against them if he wasn't even allowed to enter. The moment anyone got close enough, the guards on the walls would order them to stop and send a few archers over to investigate. They were only allowed to enter once it was confirmed they weren't Reidy. There were a number of times he held a few of the ones sent to investigate hostage but the guards on the walls still fired their arrows without hesitation.

Reidy was finally suffering the consequences of his actions, and it only worsened when the blademaster caught wind of him. Just as Lorist expected, Reidy was still far from being able to deal with a blademaster. Even though he wouldn't be as disadvantaged as a gold-ranked swordsman, he still found it hard to fight on the same level. Fortunately, he was still able to escape when he wanted, so Reidy changed his original route and planned to go through the Shabaj duchy to reach the province of Messen, which used to be the Melein duchy's territory. He would then head to Egret Lake and reach the Andinaq kingdom before taking a huge detour to Morante.

What he didn't expect was that the four duchies were in it together. Duke Handra's messenger arrived at Shabaj first, and they also began to hunt him. He had only managed to relax for two days before he was forced to run for his life again.

His anger grew ever worse and more intense, along with it grew his cruelty. When two of the Shabaj duchy's gold-ranked knights were killed, Duke Shabaj also sent out the duchy's blademaster and swore to see Reidy's corpse torn to a thousand pieces.

Being the target of two blademasters caused Reidy endless trouble. Fortunately, while he wasn't able to handle the blademasters themselves, he was able to defeat their minions easily. The high-up blademasters normally wouldn't act until they got a definitive lead on where Reidy was. This gave him the opportunity to kill off his weaker pursuers before he continued his escape. The small fry became terrified of him, they didn't dare to leave the blademasters' sides.

Reidy was finally able to take a short breather. His swordsmanship had been honed quite substantially during his escapade, especially during his confrontations with the blademasters. Having familiarized himself with the first blademaster's moves, he was even able to gain a slight advantage during the fights. When the second blademaster made his way there, he made his escape with a hearty laugh.

It was too bad that pleasant situation didn't last long. Having not heard anything about the capture of the one that murdered his nephew, Duke Fisablen finally decided to send his lover, rank 2 Blademaster Xanthi, to join the hunt. In only a single clash, Reidy suffered three wounds. Luckily, he made his escape quickly and jumped into a nearby river, if not, he would not have been able to get away.

The last time Reidy was spotted was near Egret Lake. So far, his pursuers were on their way there as well. Even the four duchies' combined army. stationed at Centerlake Island, were alerted. Many search parties were deployed to scour the lake.

"Map," said Lorist.

Howard, who was worried about his senior apprentice brother, had already prepared the map of Egret Lake and laid it out before Lorist.

Egret Lake was the largest plot of undeveloped land within the territory of the former empire. It separated the Great Andalou Plains from the rest of the empire's rich land and bordered Cloudsnap Mountains, The Northlands, and the Liden Mountains. The center of the empire only had two main roads, one through the Madras straight to Melein and Shabaj, and another towards the two southwestern provinces, Majik and Farkel.

The two roads could be described as a large detour. There was actually another unconventional path, across Egret Lake itself when its surface froze up in the winter. One would first go through the swamp to Centerlake Island before crossing another swampy area to arrive at Messen. The was the one Duke Melein used to transport Fiercegale Legion to resist the second prince's invasion.

Strictly speaking, the swamp around Egret Lake should be called Egret Basin. It was a large expanse of wetlands of roughly five hundred square kilometers, whereas Egret Lake was only about five square kilometers. While some parts of the swamp would freeze up during winter, most of it still remained rather dangerous.

Ever since Melein's two provinces were absorbed into Shabaj, and following the safe return of the second highness to his throne, the four central duchies stationed their troops at Centerlake Island and constructed a wooden citadel there to prevent the second highness's forces from using it for a winter invasion. Their vigilance was only to be expected, given how the battle that shot the second highness to fame occurred during winter.

As for the other route from Madras, the four central duchies didn't mind it much. First, the route circled around Egret Lake and was incredibly hard to traverse. There was also a citadel there that could stop any invading army in its tracks. Nobody could transport their army through the pass given the horrible terrain, so most who bothered to travel on that road were merchants. It was said that Duke Madras had once discussed with Duke Melein about making that route into a highway to improve trade, but the project was delayed to no end due to financial concerns.

So far, Whitelion Legion was deployed in the two southwestern provinces to stand off against the Union at Kanbona. The reorganized royal defense legion, on the other hand, was stationed at Hanstmost against Zitram. Word was that the second highness was forming a new amphibious legion on the opposite shore of Egret Lake right next to Centerlake Island. The rumor terrified the four central duchies.

It was the 26th day of the 11th month on Grindia and there were only 44 days before the new year's arrival, If Lorist wanted to travel to Egret Lake to look for Reidy, he would have to travel by sea to Silowas and head to Jilin harbor before heading there on horseback. It was the fastest way but even so, it would still take around eleven days. This route, however, passed through the central province where the imperial capital was and it was very likely that the second highness would cause him trouble some way or another.

The second route involved traveling to Delamock before going to Vanades and heading to Egret Basin from there. The road was long and winding, it would take him at least two weeks. With Madras' conquest and its occupation by the Northland nobles, who were in the second highness's faction, Shabaj had already cut the route off and prohibited any merchants from traveling to Vanades.

After some thought, he finally decided to use the second route.

"Tarkel, notify our agents in Vanades with the messenger eagles and have them find me a guide and hunter. Prepare what I need to search for Reidy. We'll leave tomorrow afternoon."

"Understood, Your Grace."