Chapter 3: Shadow Panther
Translator: Exodus Tales Editor: Exodus Tales
Under the bright dawn light that shone across the plain, the Bennet Castle, once again, revealed its grandiosity for the whole world to see.
Compared to other castles owned by knights of the same rank, the Bennet Castle was actually a much more extravagant piece of architecture. It was, in a way, what you’d call a ‘work of an era’. It took about ten years for the First Bennett Lord to finish constructing it. And if it wasn’t for the diligent maintenance of those who came after him, there wouldn’t be such a magnificent landmark standing here to this day.
Due to the incompetence of its successors over the last few generations, the Bennett family was demoted from one of the most prestige Lords in the kingdom to just a family of knights. This was why the Bennetts were always so ashamed when they talked about their past.
As the current ruler of the house, the Knight of Bennet was very regretful to have accomplished so little during the war. He fought bravely and persistently against the orcs, but the achievements he made were not sufficient to change his family’s status.
This was why he was so keen on educating his children. Zach, especially. If Zach could become a knight before the age of thirty, the Bennet bloodline would have no concerns with being cut off. After that, it was up to Zach’s ability to decide his own future.
Abel, though, was not placed with such responsibility. If he never volunteered to become a knight, the Knight of Bennett was going to have someone teach him mathematics. Abel was supposed to find an office job in town when he got older.
The Knight of Bennett was very worried about his younger son’s future. Abel was not going to have his own castle. He was not going to have his own warhorse. He wasn’t even going to have his own armor. Once Abel became older, he would become a wandering knight, and wandering knights were not recognized by the nobles in this country. He would have to spend a great deal of his life just to be able to afford the basic gear. If he could find a stable living before the age of forty, that would be considered more than lucky.
“You ranked up?” the Knight of Bennett asked Abel.
Abel took about two months to become a rank one novice knight. The same process took his father four months, and his brother four and a half months. Abel wasn’t given the same amount of resources. The attention he received was nowhere near the same as other men, but raw talent alone gave him an advantage at the very start.
“Yes, Father. I became a rank one novice knight last night,” Abel replied, and Zach quickly ran over to give him a hug.
“You’re a genius, brother, my most dear brother!” Zach span his little brother around. He would’ve liked to compliment him a bit more, but Abel didn’t seem to like being waved around like a ragdoll.
“You’re a genius,” Zach said once more as he put Abel back to the ground.
“Shame. Shame,” the Knight of Bennett watched with a complex look on his face. He was happy, but kind of sad at the same time. If Abel was his oldest son, he would probably make more income than Zach would as a knight. That being said, Zach’s training was already in progress. The Bennett Family did not have any money to spare.
Abel got his Horadric Cube yesterday. He couldn’t use the Scroll of Town Portal in it, but it was always nice to possess an item this valuable. In fact, after he woke up this morning, all he was thinking about was the formula he used to craft the cube. Even though there weren’t a lot of formulas that he could use now, he might find something useful in town.
“Father, I want to go to Fort Lee today,” Abel requested. As usual, he was very direct to make this request. He wasn’t used to talking this way before, but knights were supposed to be assertive in their speech.
The Knight of Bennett nodded, “Sure. You just became a knight last night. It’s better if you take a day off from your training today.”
“I’ll help you get a horse,” Zach said, then ran off to the stable. He got an inferior horse for Abel. After helping Abel to get on it, he even snuck a gold coin inside his pocket.
The Knight of Bennett saw it, of course, but he didn’t point it out. He was very happy to see it, though. After all, a brotherly bond was a rare thing to find from those of noble birth.
Every horse that was not a warhorse was considered to be what was called an ‘inferior horse.’ A warhorse would be fed wheat and beans, quality feeds which would’ve cost at least 10 gold coins every month. Without receiving this kind of treatment, a warhorse would quickly lose its speed and become a regular inferior horse.
The horse Abel was riding was an inferior horse. It was a two-year-old pony, but it was born from a warhorse that belonged to the Bennett family. If the Bennett family could afford to give it the proper nutrition, there wouldn’t be a problem to raise it as a warhorse.
While Abel was riding on his inferior pony, he had his bodyguard, Norman, following him at his back. Norman was wearing a full set of leather armor. He was carrying a long sword on his back, but he didn’t have a horse with him. Since the horse his master was riding was a pony, he had no problem following it with just his two legs.
Norman was a retired soldier who became back from war with the Knight of Bennett. As an underling to the Knight of Bennet, he lived with the rest of the family in the Bennett Castle. In a way, it was the way of a servant showing his gratitude and loyalty to his lord.
Norman was a very skilled swordsman. He became a rank six warrior after being trained directly under the Knight of Bennett. He didn’t possess any kind of special techniques, but his swordsmanship alone was enough to make him a trustworthy bodyguard of Abel.
“Hold on for a second, Young Master,” Norman drew a sword from his back and scanned the trees on the side of the road. It would take about half an hour to go from here to Bennett Castle. It was also half an hour away from Fort Lee. If something was to happen to Abel, it was virtually impossible to call for back-ups.
“What did you find?” Abel pulled the rein on his pony, then drew his new dagger from his waist pocket.
While Abel was a lot taller than Norman on a horse, he couldn’t see anything that was in the trees. What he could hear, though, was a loud growling from over the distance.
That’s when the shadow appeared. Abel could see it now. It was a shadow panther, and it was leaping straight for the pony’s neck. The pony wasn’t afraid in the least, however. As the offspring of a mare that survived the war, it was more than ready to take on a defensive stance.
Snap. Within less than a second, it quickly jumped back and dodged the deadly bite of the shadow panther. The panther missed and was immediately punished by Norman and his long sword.
Usually, a shadow panther wouldn’t appear during the daytime. It liked being in the dark, and it liked ambushing its prey while hiding at the side of the road. An encounter like this was rather unusual, in a way. This panther must’ve been starving to go so far away out of the forest.
Norman already had his sword ready. The shadow panther, though, was by no means an ordinary feline. As ineffective as its bites were against Norman’s blade, it still managed to dodge every single one of his attacks.
Abel jumped down from his horse to join the fight. The shadow panther didn’t attend to him. Judging from past experience, the larger human was the only thing that was stopping it from getting a full meal.
The shadow panther was right. Well, partly, at least. Abel didn’t make a direct approach. Instead, he just circled around in the distance for an opportunity to strike. He didn’t want to be a nuisance to Norman. It wasn’t like he could do much harm if he just charged forward, either.
It took a while for Norman to make his first contact. He was aiming for the shadow panther’s neck, but it was fast enough to make the blade hit its back, instead. Worse yet, the sly beast exploited this chance for a counterattack. While Norman was off guard, it used its tail for a surprise whip attack at one of his legs.
Norman was suddenly at a disadvantage. Pain started showing on his face, and his feet were moving slower as he tried to re-adjust his position. While watching from the side, Abel knew he couldn’t wait any longer.
Abel quickly drew a long, deep breath. He wanted to concentrate all his qi into one powerful attack. If he could release it towards the shadow panther, this should be over in an instance.
He had to be very careful, though. The technique he was using was meant for novice knights to train themselves to exhaustion. If he was to miss and make another attempt, he would probably end up destroying his meridian to the point of no recovery.
In a blink of an eye, the shadow panther leaped towards Norman for a finishing strike. Since there was a momentary pause as it stayed in mid-air, Abel took the chance and took his bet. He ran towards the panther from its back, his dagger pointing forward in his hands.
A painful growl from the shadow panther. It was aware of Abel’s presence the entire time, but the injury Norman inflicted still had an effect in delaying its movements. It was a close call, essentially. If Abel didn’t step in, the outcome would be very different now.
Having dug his dagger inside the shadow panther, Abel quickly let go of his grip and took a few steps back. The panther, on the other hand, started violently jerking its body as it laid on the ground. It didn’t have the energy to keep up the fight, but the bloodlust would just never leave its conscience.
It took a while for the shadow panther to die. The more that it growled at Abel and Norman, the weaker its voice slowly started to become. Once it stopped making any noise, that’s also when it stopped moving at all.
Abel wanted to make sure that the panther was dead, but Norman pulled him back when he took a step forward. “Be careful,” he said, as he threw the sheath of his sword towards the shadow panther.
Just when Abel thought that the shadow panther was dead, it suddenly clashed away the sheath with its claws. Even on the brink of death, its reflexes were still much faster than the vast majority of humans.
Now that the shadow panther was certainly dead, Norman still wouldn’t let Abel go check on it. Instead, he went ahead to pick up the sheath that he threw.
“Young Master,” he pointed towards the claw marking on his sheath as he picked it up, “As you can see, most beasts prefer killing their prey instantly.”
Norman picked up the shadow panther’s corpse on the ground. Then, with a smile on his face, he removed the dagger from its backside and returned it back to Abel.
“How would you like to deal with this, sir?” Norman inquired, “This is your prize, after all.”
“Let’s carry it and sell it in town,” Abel ordered as he looked towards the injury on Norman’s leg,
“Take the horse from here on. Take the panther with you as well.”
Despite his role as a humble servant, Norman didn’t hesitate to take his young master’s horse. He would give his life away if it was for the Bennett family, but none of that was contradictory to what he was doing here. Right now, he was an injured man. The most he could do for Abel was to not be a liability. Since there was only one horse available, the fastest way to travel was to have him stop walking on his two legs.