“Some eyes and ears you are, Rob,” said Seven as she trotted beside Robert in her usual cat form. “Got yourself a good pounding and I had to be your mouthpiece instead.”
School was over. Nothing worthy of note happened after his departure from the healing hall. He went to classes as usual, bantering with Creed to bore through the doze-inducing lecture, and before he knew it, the bell rang to signify the end of school. He never saw Samara beyond the time when she left the academy grounds but even then, she showed only her back to him.
Asten and his goons never showed themselves to Robert after the matter in the garden but he felt a lot of eyes onto him, prying at his every move. They were probably there to spy on him for Asten, Robert guessed.
Much to his mild disappointment, nothing about the incident in the garden was spread among the whispers of students. Robert immediately knew the reason when he saw the slight twitch in Creed’s smile. Concertedly, Robert owed Creed a meal. It was also then that Robert found out Creed had long lost his all his carnal desires, a curse of long age.
“There was a certain way to overcome this problem,” Robert had told Creed but his generosity was decline.
At present, there were only two hours before dusk. Unlike most students, Robert lived a good distance away from the academy. While everyone merely moved to the dorms which were just the next block of building, Robert had to walk all the way to The Central. The small journey would take him an hour at the very least but as someone who needed no sleep, it wasn’t a problem. He had the whole night.
Although, he wasn’t heading towards his residence. He was heading towards the slums of Midas Valley, Ragged Bottom.
“Your feign of ignorance is futile. What do you have to say for yourself?”
“She never fell out of my cognition. I pretty much have my eyes and ears on her the whole time. Besides, nothing befell on her now, did it?“ Robert retorted as he chewed on a crispy breadstick filled with minced meat seethed in some yellow sauce. It was something he bought along the way from a peculiar stall. The stall had a vast selection of bread in all sorts of quaint. Robert picked the one that looked the least queer. The taste was delectable, surprisingly.
Seven glared. “You said, the whole time.”
“Aside from watering the horses.”
“Really?” She narrowed her eyes.
“If you’re not going to take my word for it, don’t bother asking in the first place.”
“My doubts are on the times aside from watering the horses. She has many embarrassing moments as you know, she can be absentminded.”
“That, she can be.” Robert recalled yesterday’s luncheon where Valena kissed the table from an excessive bow. “I couldn’t have known it would an embarrassing moment until it happened, now can I?”
Attuned to her antics, Robert spared no response but merely heartily indulged in his bread until there were only crumbs on his fingers. He licked those away too.
“Well, I guess I could overlook that oversight of yours. Moving on from that, my mistress is feeling quite sorrowful at the moment. She hoped for her friend’s visits but he never did grace her with his presence, not even once in the campus”
Robert sighed internally. “Sure, I’ll visit. When you get rid of all the Sentries in the academy.”
“Surely you do have some means to elude their scrutiny, no?”
“I don’t. Not yet, at least.”
“Then forgive this shadow of a cat for overestimating the capacity of her mistress’ friend.”
Seven clicked her tongue. “You are of no fun at all.”
“You don’t want to be here with me, do you?”
“On my mistress’ wishes, gladly. Of my own accord, there would not be any “you” to be with.”
“Hmm. I wonder where we went wrong with our relationship.”
“From the moment you attempted to slit my mistress’ throat.”
“I was forgiven for that.”
“The moment you played my mistress into your palm in order for her to divulge the truth.”
Robert furrowed his brows. “Excuse you, an individual has the right to know the truth.”
“And the moment you start having delusions of my mistress warming your bed at night.”
To that, Robert chuckled inwardly. “I don’t mind during the day too.”
Even though he only expressed his uncouth respond in his mind, he still received a glower from Seven. “Your mind is wandering into boorish lands, no?”
“Just your imagination.”
After passing through the bright buildings and lively places, they took a slope down into an area where lights became sparse and the liveliness were replace with griefs.
Spurred by the air, Seven directed a questioning glance at Robert. ”I need to ask, do you not feel pain?”
“What?” Robert turned to Seven.
“Do you not feel distress, despair, or even anger?”
“Why is our conversation also taking a turn for the dark?”
“I was watching.”
“That’s really unpleasant to know but I appreciate your honesty.”
“I was watching you when you were getting pounded by those thugs of a student.”
“Oh,” Robert murmured, “you’re talking about that.”
“But you were calm. I can tell when humans try to hide their pain, but you— there was pain but you felt no need to hide it. It was not bothering you. I only felt impatience from you then. There was no distress, despair, or anger. There was none of that. You were only impatient that the poundings could not have ended any sooner. You were just bored. Why is that?”
“If that’s your curiosity, you have my unique constitution to thank for.”
“That is all I ever heard from you but just what is this unique constitution of yours?”
Robert froze his voice and eyes. “I can’t tell you, you know that.”
Seven said nothing. She merely turned her interest back to her steps.
“But thank you, though.”
“For what?” Seven asked with a frown.
Seven sighed. “I do not see a future where we will ever find an even ground of mutual understanding.”
“I won’t be so sure.”
As they proceeded further into the dark area, the air turned rotten and pungent odor filled their noses. Cries of various peoples resonated with the grave mood. They weren’t yet in the slums, not officially, but the conditions had already taken a turn for the worse.
“Where are we going?” asked Seven.
“Ragged Bottom,” came Robert’s plain answer.
“May I know why?”
“No guards. No soldiers. No worries.”
“It’s called the slums for a reason. You will never find anyone with footwear treading a step into these kind of places. It’s the same for pretty much everywhere else in the world. It’s a place unanimously deemed hopeless.”
“The level of misdeeds and transgressions must be quite high, then.”
“Everyone’s dead or dying in there and not a single coin can be found in anyone’s pocket. The crime rate might actually be lower than the rest of the city.”
“You know all this, how?”
“Reading, in tandem with practical experiences.” Robert grinned.
If Seven had the ability to, she would have definitely rolled her eyes.
Abruptly, Robert wiped his grin off and a frown took its place for reasons not of the pungent smell or distressing wails.
“Have they finally found us?” asked Seven upon noticing the change of his demeanor. Even though she hated his guts, she trusted his competency.
“They never lost us in the first place. They were merely too far away but it seems they have pick up their pace.”
“Four as presumed?”
Robert nodded but he arched an eyebrow a bit after. He caught two additional presence just behind the four.
Seven reacted to the shift of his eyebrow. “Unexpected troubles?”
A grin found its way back onto Robert’s face. “Quite the contrary.”
“That smile of yours is unsettling.”
“Good.” Robert stretched his neck. “Now, in you go.”
Seven said no more and dove into his shadows at his permission.
“Lord of the Spirits!” Seven exclaimed. “It’s huge.”
Robert cursed himself for having something venereal as his first thoughts. “What is?” he asked, calmly.
“Your shadows. It greatly resembles a vast cavern in here.”
“You have huge potential, if we are both being humble.”
“Glad to know,” Robert responded dryly.
Infusing Magic to his feet, Robert broke into a sprint that raised clouds of dust in his path. At the same time, his pursuers followed suit with his speed.
He dashed past a tattered sign that wrote, “Ragged Bottom.”
The houses dwindled in sizes, numbers, and quality as he ran deeper into the slums. The same could be said for the residents. There were no small amount of people grasping at the last moment of their lives. Despair were plenty and within his hyper-cognition, not a single sense of contentment could be found.
Among these depressing entities, something stood out.
The strange presence was faint, like a mirage of a thought. He couldn’t tell what it was but it was moving. A person, looking for something or just looking around as its movements were provisional and at times, erratic.
Robert made a mental note to not let this presence slipped from his vigilance.
He went down a deeper slope which splits into two perpendicular turns at the end. Instead of either of the paths, he kept straight on his path and into an alley which lights struggled to assert their meagre presence. Further in and after a turn into a wider alley, darkness reigned supreme as lights could only cower before their expanse.
Robert came to a stop at the wide alley.
“This place would do just fine.”
He changed into his combat outfit and donned his mask. Leaning against the wall, he waited for his pursuers with his arms crossed.
“Mistress will feel right at home here,” Seven said from within his shadows.
Robert took a whiff. “I thought you said her residence wasn’t all that bad?”
“I am not referring to the smell. I mean the absence of light.”
“She likes it?”
“Apparently, it gives her solace as her cramp room would look more… boundless, shall we say.”
“Yeah, that’s unsettling.”
“Are they here yet?”
“Don’t you have your own way of scouting?” Robert drew a dagger from the Storage Ring, whirling it around his finger. “Where’s the other six of you?”
“The remaining six of me are with the mistress. As of right now,” Seven rose a single tendril of shadow, “this is all I can do.”
“Then what is the point of you?”
“My mistress expressed her desire to join you in your… ventures but your refusal of her participation has left her, disheartened. To compensate for your lack of delicacy, I have being sent as her eyes. But do take heed that I am still every inch capable of reaping heads.”
“Somehow, I’m not surprised.”
“I expect no less from you.”
As an idea puffed into his head, Robert said, “fifty Ris say she’s writhing in her embarrassment of my observations over her few blunders in the academy.”
Seven groaned. “You will have it on the morrow.”
Robert chuckled. “Adorable.”
“I was under the impression that you desired my assistance and strength?”
“That was for matters concerning the anomalies. Not… this. And you’re just One, not Seven, right now.”
“Oh my, how rude.”
“Truth does not constitutes—” Robert paused.
“They have arrived,” Seven said.
Robert tucked the dagger into his long sleeves. “Indeed, they have.”
At the corner, two boys of Robert’s age made themselves known. As expected, they were the ones who assailed him with Asten. Dressed in all black and kerchiefs covering the bottom part of their faces, they held a club in their hands. From the opposite end of the alley, the other two goons of Asten appeared from the distance. These two held staves a head shorter than their height.
“A pincer formation, they are not complete dullards, after all,” Seven reckoned.
“Won’t make much difference.”
“Kill them all?”
After a brief silence, Robert spoke, “we don’t need to. We will leave that to the maid.”
Uncertainty painted the four goons’ faces as they beheld Robert in leather armor that blended well with the dark. One of them endured a shriek that threatened to escape from his lips when he bore witness to Robert’s gray mask. Unlike the previous masks he wore, this mask had no cranny even for eyes or mouth.
“What’s the meaning of these garbs? Planning to join the theaters?” mocked the shortest one of the four.
The goons all laughed, except for one. The one that was trembling to his mask. His eyes then glued to Robert’s shadows. He saw it stirred.
“Hey, you’re alright?” asked the one beside the trembling goon.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m fine.” The shaking goon struggled a nod.
“What’s wrong, peasant? Why so quiet?” asked the tallest goon as he poke Robert in the chest with his club. “Scared shitless?”
“Maybe you shouldn’t have pissed off the young lord, then.” The shortest one clicked his tongue while shaking his head. “I just love putting commoners like you in their place. So desperate to be defiant against fate.”
“What a fool for you to think we would not chase you to Ragged Bottom.”
They shared a laugh.
“Hey Krum, how should we go about this?”
“Break all his limbs and threw him to the streets,” answered Krum who was the most well-dressed among them. Robert guessed he was in command in the absence of Asten.
“Ah. Just like usual, then,” said the goon who seemed overly excited to swing his stave around.
“Don’t kill him, Fletch,” Krum warned. “We don’t want a repeat like last time.”
“Sure sure,” the goon named Fletch heeded Krum’s warning with waves of his hand. “No need serious, we’re not in the academy now, are we?”
“Four limbs and there’s four of us. It’s an even split,” the shortest one said.
“I’ll have the first go,” Fletch said and stepped forward with his stave perched on his shoulders. “Don’t blame me for this, plebeian. Blame your misfortune for being born as a low breed and having insulted the young lord.” And he swung the stave at Robert.
The sound of bones breaking echoed into the darkening skies.
“W-what?!” Krum stared in confusion as the unforeseen happened— or rather, the unseen happened. No one saw what transpired but outcome was clear in everyone’s eyes.
The stave oscillated in the air a few times before returning to the ground, landing beside Fletch, who had his right arm broken with bones protruding through the flesh and skin.
Before his cries of agony could be unleashed, Robert jabbed at his throat, crushing every chance of him making any noise in the future. Falling to his knees, Fletch clutched at his broken arm as he gave out voiceless screams.
“This son of a whore!” The tallest one bellowed and charged with his club raised and infused with his Magic.
He swung with all his might but the wooden club, infused with Magic, shattered into splinters against Robert’s face.
“S-scales?” blurted Krum while the tall goon only stared in utter confusion.
Vermilion scales manifested on a part of Robert’s face where the stave club hit. The scales vanished seconds after it completed its task.
Taking advantage of the confusion, Robert plunged his hidden dagger into the tall goon’s ribs. Exactly like Fletch, Robert broke his throat to void him of the opportunity to voice his agony.
“Damn this fucker!” Krum, who Robert had his back turn to, roared and raised his stave.
“Nice of you to give away your intents and everything,” Robert applauded.
The short goon had also move. He was faster than his peers. He reached Robert before Krum but Robert kicked the incapacitated lofty goon towards him. Unable to receive a person twice his size, the short goon went crashing into the ground with his voiceless-grieving friend.
Robert turned back as a stave burst against his right shoulder which was covered in vermilion scales.
Krum immediately discarded the broken stave and distanced himself from Robert with a few feet of gap. Krum raised his right hand and Magic began slowly converging at the center of his palm.
“Seven,” Robert muttered, “if you will.”
With only a sound of a smirk, a barbed string of darkness lashed out from the shadows.
Streaking across the silent foul air in the alley, the shadow dismembered Krum’s raised arm.
Before a scream could erupt from Krum, Robert closed the gap in a span of a second. His straightened palm aimed for Krum’s throat.
But Krum dodged left. He then thrust out a concealed dagger of his own.
With a similar outcome to the previous attempts, the blade snapped into half against Robert’s vermilion scale-clad torso.
Robert snatched the flipping broken blade out of the air. He swiped the blade across Krum’s left thigh before driving the blade into his left hand. Robert repeated the routine of ridding Krum of his voice.
“Hiya, that one is running!” Seven pointed out with a strangely excited voice.
Robert drew another dagger from the Storage Ring and toss it without a stop in his swift movements.
The dagger found its mark at the leg and a yelp escaped the short goon’s lips as he fell face first to the ground.
“Now, on to the next step.”
With the help of Seven’s single tendril of shadow, Robert piled the unconscious thugs of a student just right before the turn at the corner. Of course, it was done so after he had taken any articles of value from them.
“May I know of what schemes you have cooked up this time around?” Seven asked.
Robert stayed silent. He took out two pellets of grayish color which he then crushed into powders in his palm.
“Ooh?” Seven made a sound.
Robert coated the powders onto the blade of the dagger in his hand.
“Oh my, oh my!” Seven exclaimed with a glittering gaze, or at least that was the impression Robert had.
He drew a small cut on each of the four’s chest.
“You are one wretched scum, Rosie.”
Robert rolled his eyes to bear with his epithet. He took a distance of a few feet away from the four after stowing away the laced dagger.
“I do not have a single notion of your intentions but I am assured by the past that it would not be anything pretty.”
Robert made no moves as he stood solemnly in between the walls of this dead silent alley.
Seven kept quiet as she was able to discern Robert’s expression by now, he was waiting for something or someone.
A minute went by and the four goons were regaining their consciousness. However, groans and growls accompanied their wake. Their limbs were trembling when they rose from the ground. Their veins were visibly showing on their body and they all grew a size larger than their former selves. Their eyes turned bloodshot red as they bleed from their every orifices.
One of them even shouted into sky but Robert had forgotten who was who, not that he knew all four of their names in the first place.
Their eyes turned to the only prey present in this alley. They looked about to throw themselves at Robert at any given moment.
“Robert, do something,” Seven entreated, tugging at his trousers with his own shadow.
“Already did, since this afternoon.”
At the next moment—
“Milady, please wait!” A familiar voice of great volume bounced into the alley.
“I can’t, Suri!” Another familiar voice shouted back. The voices were only getting closer. “They’re going to kill him!”
“They won’t, milady!”
“Even so, you know what they had done, what they are liable to do!”
“Milady, calm down! Your haste is unwise.”
There was no reply to the beseeching voice. There were only quickening steps which sounded closer and closer.
“You are the young lady of Clan Devetra!” the voice said in between breaths. “You don’t put yourself at risk for anyone!”
“He’s not just anyone and you know that, Suri!”
Those were the last words spoken just before the owners of the voices made their appearance at the corner.
A girl of emerald eyes and lustrous onyx hair rushed into the turn. On the girl’s tail was a maid with short grayish-white hair and dark skin.
Right in front of them were the four followers of Asten, who were administered with a draught of Beast Fury Pellets
The enraged and delirious four turned their gazes at the newly appeared two. They howled with voracity at their preys who brought themselves before them. Without any care to their wounds, they tore them wider as they lunged at Iora and Suri.
“Milady, step back.” Suri put herself in front of her mistress, brandishing a large black scythe gushing red smoke. In just two swings of her scythe which spanned larger than her own body, she cut the frenzied four into pieces without a single break of sweat.
“Spirits!” Seven gasped. “A soul weapon? She could not possibly be a—”
“Yes, a kin of Mordreo,” answered Robert. “She is in fact, a Demon.”
“You knew— wait, no. Of course, you do.” Seven came to an acceptance with some slight vexation.
Staring without a flutter to his eyelids at Suri’s performance, Robert curled the edge of his lips.