034 – Insidious
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This chapter gets kinda dark-ish at the end. Just some warning.

“We all agreed that the Empire is here for the novelty of Limbo, much like most other interested parties,” Lilian said.

Robert pursed his lips and shrugged. “Is that really it?”

Lilian narrowed her eyes. “Everyone wants a slice of the delectable cake. The Empire is no exception— unless you are suggesting they have another interest?”

Robert nodded as he refilled his tea. “I”m suggesting that their real interest isn’t the anomalies at all.”

“Pray tell, what is their real interest?”

Robert drank a sip from the tea in a manner that would even bring shame to the noble ladies. Giving out a sight of delight, he pointed to the ground.

“You jest,” Lilian retorted.

Robert shook his head. “I am not.”

“Let’s say I believe you. Enlightened me on your path to this conclusion.”

“I’m only speculating but I think they already have a solution to the anomalies.”

Lilian tilted her head doubtfully.

“They are the Zagan Empire,” Robert continued. “I’m sure their resources do not pale in comparison with Mister Smith’s. I refuse to believe they didn’t have any progress at all.”

“Then, why did they stopped until now?”

“They are waiting.”

“Waiting for?”

“For this city to destroy itself.”

Lilian matched her gaze with Robert, who affirmed her unspoken conjecture with the slight curl of his lips. “You’re saying that they are waiting for the right moment to distinguish themselves. They become the heroes of Midas Valley and we will forever be in their debt and essentially, a vassal state of Zagan Empire.”

“Huh…” Robert murmured. “That does sound exceedingly dramatic when you put it like that. Do note that I’m only speculating.”

“Be that as it may, why would they want Midas Valley? The Zagan Empire is all the way in the northeast, we’re in the middle west. Small nations and kingdoms stood between us and them.”

“And among those in between, stood Rulkan Union. It may not be well-known to the public but the Zagan Empire ain’t exactly known for their humility. They called themselves an Empire for a reason.”

“All these— just for Rulkan? And Midas Valley is vital for that conquest?”

“You said it yourself, this valley has abundant of natural resources and strategic terrains. These two are the founding pillar of this city, evidently from the fact that the city remained standing till this day. And lest you have forgotten, there’s the Dark Zone. If they can recover the Dark Zone from its current condition, it’s a whole another source of income. If they successfully made a foothold in this self-sustaining valley, then, they will have the Union in a pincer between two supreme powers.”

“Our spies told us Rulkan Union is still quiet.”

Robert made a face, glancing at his tea and Lilian, to and fro. “Either they are yet in the know or they are being insidious with their counter strategies. For now, they are still not a factor— right?” Robert asked.

“For now,” Lilian affirmed.

Robert heaved out a long breath.

Lilian smiled wryly. “You know, if the Empire wanted Midas Valley, they could just cease it with their overwhelming numbers of soldiers. Why go through all these troubles?”

“Off the top of my head,” Robert drank another sip of his tea, “they don’t want to risk curtailing the worth of Midas Valley, considering the valley itself is already on its way towards ruin. A war will hasten the process and war, I’m sure you are well aware, does not discriminates its collateral.”

“The Empire is known to be heedless in its conquest and its plunders. This… scheme doesn’t sound like them.”

“As I have said, I’m merely speculating but who knows.” Robert shrugged. “Times are changing.”

As if finally giving in to the load of information, Lilian rubbed her temple. “But why the Talrons?”

“The anomalies are destroying the city, slowly but surely. I wager it’s too slow for the Empire and what better way to make things faster by sowing more chaos.”

Lilian gave a sidelong glance as she came to a realization. “The Empire are the ones who smuggled the Dragon Artifacts into Midas Valley.”

“I’m sure they are doing whatever they can to sink the valley faster into its grave, just so they could reveal themselves as heroes all the sooner. Who else other than the Empire have the resources, capability, and audacity to smuggle such an item without alerting the high positions?”

“And they gave it to the Talron Clan. I’m not sure if that’s smart or foolish.”

“I think they gave it to whoever that could be a thorn to the city. Perhaps that’s how the Caeleon Faith got these artifacts?”

“If that’s true, then the Caeloen Faith will be deemed as enemies of the city but— there’s the Hunter Association— ah,” Lilian let out an insightful gasp. “That’s right, the Hunter Association is on a decline ever since the anomalies happened and now, they wouldn’t last a month.”

“All the more reason for them to conspire with the Empire. I wagered the Caeleon Faith saw this decline coming from a mountain away.” Robert drank a sip of his tea. “The expedition in Pine Grove is most likely a ruse. They are banking it on failing, in hopes that the Dragon Artifact would be expose. Maybe losing the Artifact isn’t within the plan but regardless, disorder ensued.”

“This is huge, Robert. Just think of what this means for Midas Valley as a whole,” Lilian said, rubbing her forehead. Her duality glamour was nowhere to be seen. “Just so that we are on the same page, you’re saying that the Empire funded these troublesome factions with Dragon Artifacts just so they could plunge the city into a dire state?”

“Yes.”

“And after the Empire saved the city from the brink of destruction and solved the anomaly problems, they will simultaneously bring Midas Valley into their rule and regime?”

“Correct.”

“So, the Devetra had no part in this? I can’t imagine them to be willing in handing over their power, even if it means saving the city.”

“I won’t be so quick to rule them out.” Robert gulped down his tea as it had cool enough. “Maybe the Lord Governor isn’t the traitor but what about his sons? From what I gather, his sons won’t be the one succeeding him if they intended to wait for the years to take the Lord Governor away. Once again, these are merely—”

“Speculations. Yes, I know,” she finished his sentences, “However, these are some profound insights and implications, my dear. Although, I must tell you that mere speculations won’t get you any Ris.”

Robert sighed inwardly. “It was worth a try.”

“Well, let’s aside the politics for now. Mister Smith would not make any move based purely on speculations. It’s worth looking further into it, so until we have concrete proof, the Empire is still a low priority. But of course and as always, be wary.”

Robert chuckled dryly. “After what happened two days ago, I don’t think I would even want to blink.”

“In the meantime, just be ready to move at any moment or second, you have loose ends to tie up.”

Robert poured himself some more tea but the stream thinned out before the cup was even half-full. He looked up at Lilian. “I don’t suppose I get to have more?”

“It was meant to last a conversation, no more no less” Lilian denied him of the extremely fragrant tea that he came to adore before he even knew it.

Robert sighed. “Is that everything?”

“There is a personal question, sort of.”

He gestured for Lilian to speak while looking sorrowfully at the empty cup.

“Are you familiar with the term, task force?”

“I am,” he answered. “A term coined by Rulkan Union. A small force of highly competent soldiers solely dedicated to a few specific tasks. What about it?”

“This is my personal suggestion which has been counseled and approved by Mister Smith and Mister Tann.”

At those words, Robert understood. He widened his eyes. “Personal my foot.”

“It’s not an arduous stretch to ask this of you. After all, you already have a Spirit Contractor at your beck and call. And if a certain spying black cat is right, you already have another… amazing girl under your thumb, Samara, was it? You pretty much have Suri in your hands and Iora seemed to be predisposed towards you, but not anymore, I assumed. And how long do you think it will take before you abduct Olivia into your foil too?”

“Huh… this is starting to sound more like a harem than a task force.”

“And they seem to be capable of keeping their mouth shut. A talent inherited by not many. And my oh my, truly a sinful man you are, to have so many girls serving you.”

“Only Valena and that fucking twin-tailed cat are privy to my purposes. And what you are suggesting, is going to be a nightmare. That’s a lot of mouths to make sure they are shut. And seems to me, I’ll be training them. I have never taught anyone before, not as a profession, at least.“

“Having more mouths is certainly reckless but you are just one person, Robert. What if you’re needed in two places at once?”

“Then, get more.”

“I am,” Lilian said. “But if I’m getting more, I rather have the ones you picked with your discretion. You are the one they will be working with, after all.”

Staring solemnly at the empty pot, Robert began to hum.

Lilian laughed but her lips held it back. “Anyways, it’s just a suggestion. Sleep on it, dear,” saying so, she rose from her chair. “Better run back to class before the professors start questioning your long absence.”

“You can’t just cover it up for me?”

“I can but if I did it repeatedly, it will be suspicious. I rather save it for moments that actually demanded it.”

“Any hopes that I can be dismissed early from all classes? It was a lot of information to handle. Does it pass as demanding?”

“Not a chance, sweetheart,” smilingly, Lilian crushed all of his hopes. “At most, you’re welcome to doze off in class. That I can convince my colleagues to turn a blind eye on it.”

“I don’t sleep.”

“Well then, do your best.”

Robert groaned.

****

The final chime of the day resounded throughout the entire campus. The gates were immediately flooded with eager students but one such person wasn’t so eager. Instead, he was dragging his body towards the gate at a pace of a single faltering step at a time.

“It’s not that bad, was it?” asked Creed as he patted the languid Robert on the back.

“It’s not bad,” he retorted. “It’s terrible. Imagine, sitting through hours and hours of lectures of contents that you have read in so many books, each with a different author. At least, letters on pages are silent, as oppose to the ramblings of professors who seemed to be indulging in their display of excellence instead of actually conveying the knowledge. So, aye, it ain’t bad.”

“Something’s different about you.”

“You can ask Lily about that later.”

“Touche, then,” Creed shrugged. “Is that how you say it?”

Robert lazily nodded.

“I don’t want to drag your spirits down but,” Creed leaned in close to his ears, “you will be working tonight.”

“Do you know where they are now?” Robert asked with an eyebrow raised.

“A bar, a brother, or some back alley, maybe?”

“Maybe?” Robert questioned.

“They are always moving. Their last known whereabouts is somewhere in Akaeles Avenue. The next report is coming in thirty minutes.”

“The sooner I get this done, the better.”

“Patience, Ross. They are still lurking about in areas with a lot of eyes and ears— eyes and ears of their former backers. You move now, you risk exposing your existence.”

“Any chance of them seeking shelter with any of their allies?”

“Former allies” Creed corrected. “Anyone who tried to shelter or silence them will just place themselves in the eyes of the Dragon Knights and no one wants to deal with the Dragon Knights in such trying times.”

“Well, that’s something.”

“You have everything ready?” Creed whispered. “You did lost a lot in the fight with Qyoni and you didn’t take much in the resupply.”

“If they’re just Elites or lesser, even bare hands will be enough. Besides, I have my sword now.”

“If you say so.”

Passing the gates, Creed fare Robert well and disappeared into the crowd of students. His presence completely vanished from Robert’s senses shortly after.

“Shall we go,” Robert turned around after feeling needles in his back, “Suri?”

“How do you even know it was me?” Suri threw a question.

But Robert merely let it fell. Instead, his gaze went around Suri and beyond her.

“My mistress won’t be joining us,” Suri said.

“Clearly,” Robert responded without showing his crestfallen mind. “She does know about this, right?”

“She won’t be joining us, that’s all that matters.”

“Hmm,” Robert murmured and began walking down the streets with Suri following just a few steps behind.

Heading south, they walked up a small hill that led to a wide street filled with stalls that sell mostly trinkets. At each stall Robert looked, there wasn’t even one that was selling food. There were a lot of liquor stalls which promoted their products with astounding vigor and scantily-clad women, but given Robert’s destination, their cajolery was an exercise in futility.

Still, he wished to at least have something to eat on their immensely short journey. His lunch was all used to keep his mind sound through the tedious lectures. He didn’t think it was possible for him to go mad with hunger but he wasn’t keen on finding out.

Banishing a breath of exasperation, he grabbed on to Suri’s wrist and hastened his pace. The maid yelped but let herself be dragged without much resistance. It was queer of her but Robert knew why. She had no say in anything as long as Robert knew of her true self. However, Robert’s reason for the sudden celerity wasn’t due to his hunger nor was it the anticipation to see Lynn again. It was because of a certain stout and plump girl closing up behind him.

“By the faiths,” a voice coated with disappointment grazed past the two’s ears. “I looked away for half a day and you have already induce another girl into your vile grasps.”

His rush was all too slow and late. It wouldn’t have been easy if he used Arcane but such trifling matters was hardly deserving of Arcane involvement.

“I’m thankful for what you did to me but I do not condone what you are doing to others,” the voice further said.

Suri immediately took a stance as she turned around and glare at the conventionally dressed Samara. She stuck close to Robert’s shoulder. “Does she knows?” she asked.

“She doesn’t,” Robert whispered back. “She thinks I’m dragging you to somewhere private for a copulation session, which she isn’t completely wrong.”

Suri had a stupefied look but it turned into a grimace.

“Robert… you aren’t coercing this poor girl, are you?” as Samara asked, her hands were already curling into fists.

“Of c—”

“Absolutely no such thing,” Suri answered before Robert could. “You are mistaken, kind lady.”

Dubiously, Samara eyed Robert but after seeing the impassive gaze of Suri, she relaxed. “Fine then, since the girl has spoken.”

“I have never forced myself on a girl since I was born and until now,” Robert said.

“I have never eaten beef before in my life” was what Samara wished to retort but Robert wouldn’t lie to her, she believed it, as much as she hated it.

Samara sighed.

“You’re going to The Ivory Tavern too?” Robert asked.

“Of course, I work there, remember? And— wait. Too?”

“That’s where we’re heading to, yes.”

Suri raised her brows. “Ivory Tavern?”

“It’s a bar, a diner, and a whorehouse.”

Suri’s eyes grew wide at his last word and cocked her concerned gaze to Samara.

“I just clean the dishes and make the beds,” Samara responded in an instant.

Suri drooped her shoulders with a breath of relief.

“They have good mead and good food. As for the women, I only tried one but she was incredible. As a bonus, the customers frequently keep to their own circle or themselves. Do you drink?”

“I don’t dislike the taste and I can’t get drunk.”

“Excellent.” Robert beamed. “We’ll get along just fine, then.”

“I doubt that.”

“So do I and everyone else.” He added, “at first.”

Samara groaned at the seemingly lovely and delightful exchange. She rolled her eyes and left the two to their own device.

“Can we just keep moving?” Suri asked, obviously irked.

Robert murmured and did just that.

It was a bit of a long walk to The Ivory Tavern but still shorter than the road back to the old bookstore.

As soon as the tavern came into the sight of the three from many buildings away, Robert’s expression darkened.

“What’s wrong?” asked Samara with a fretting tone.

There was nothing but a dreadful silence from the dark-staring Robert.

“Wa—” Before Samara could get an answer, Robert took off streaking through the narrow streets.

He reached the front street of the tavern in a single breath. Unlike the brazen and lively air it held, a gloomy cloud hung around the building. From within, there were cries and screams for mercy and help.

Robert recognized one of these many distressed voices as Lynn’s.

Something was bending within his mind and heart.

There were two watchful men at the entrance, armed with well-forged swords by their belts. They wore fancy clothes and their face weren’t roughened with hardships. A demeanor completely unbefitting of patrons of such establishment.

“Why are we even standing out here?” asked one the two watchers as he took a swig from the bottle of liquor in his hand.

“I hear you, Melloc,” the other watcher responded to his companion’s drunk chatter. “All the guards are either busy with the noble streets or the roads, no they would have any left for these kind of streets. What say we just head in?”

“Are you drunk, Tedrick? You want to go against Lubac’s orders? He’ll fry you up with his thunder.”

The man named Tedrick grumbled with a sigh. “Why does he get all the money, food, and women?”

“What can we do? He’s an Elite with a Unique Arcane,” Melloc took another swig but he threw the bottle to the ground in a heave when a drop remained. “Fuck this! Why do I have to be born as a Riean? And what the fuck do these Aeryeon shits want with us? Fucking curse it all!” He stomped.

“Hey look.” Tedrick pulled on his companion’s vest and gestured at Robert who was approaching them. “We got a young one here.”

“Bah!” Melloc uttered. “Just let him go. We don’t want to make too much noises, especially out in the streets. The knights might be near.”

Robert heard every last bit of their words clearly. “Riean stragglers,” Robert muttered in his heart.

“Move along, peasant!” Tedrick ordered at the brandish of his sword. “This is no concern of yours.”

Without a shit to give to the man’s menacing words, Robert swiftly took out a sword and drew half a circle.

A sharp sound cried into the night and the empty streets.

The heads of the two men flew from their neck as the sword shattered at the excessive amount of infused Arcane.

“Ross!”

Before his hands reached the door handles, a voice called out from behind.

Robert looked over his shoulder. “Creed,” he uttered.

The affable golden hair boy was not in his usual smiles but a sullen countenance, “I came as soon as I heard. I know what you’re feeling right now but—”

“But nothing,” Robert declared. “Discretion be damned.”

Creed wanted to inform Robert of the consequences that would follow if he just charged straight in, but… he knew it would be futile. Right now, he doubted even Mister Smith’s words would get through to his mind.

Creed took a deep breath. “Just make sure none of them lived.”

Without a nod or any form of acknowledgement, Robert shoved open the door.

Robert’s eyes grew wide at the sight that befell before him.

Something bent into a sharp curve in both of his mind and heart.

The furnishings of the tavern were in shambles, pieces and splinters laid strewn all over.

There was a large bearded man chucking down mugs after mugs of beer. At his crotch, there was a barmaid with short red hair, Rose was her name, Robert recalled. Among the girls, she had the most haughty character but no such expression could be found on her right now. Indifferent to her anguish, the bearded man had bend Rose over a table with her dress torn and dangle from her naked body. He stood behind her and thrust his hips into hers repeatedly, giving no regards to her cries and wails.

There was another barmaid, the blue-haired Gloria with feather braids. She was gentle with her customers and never refuse their requests. Her back was thrown against a pillar while a thug-looking man plunged himself repeatedly into her snatch while gnawing away on her exposed chest.

And there was Sunny, a petite cheerful girl with blonde twin tails who never failed to have a smile on her face, but right now, she was the opposite of her name and her usual manner. Forced on the floor, a huge man pounded her rear with reckless abandon as he pulled on her hair, incurring an endless string of loud shrills of pain from the small girl.

Similar circumstances scattered across the whole ground floor of the tavern. All of the women abused and raped by men of obviously high stature without a care to the world. They spouted and shouted abuse at the women they were tormenting. There were men who feasting behind the counter on what kinds of food the could ransack from the impromptu kitchen.

Although most of them had their face turned from Robert as they indulged imprudently in the vile acts, he could tell who they were through the outline of the back of their head and side-views of their faces. They were his targets, the stragglers.

“Patience, my arse!” Robert shouted in his heart when he remembered Creed’s word from before.

Even Ilynn Rumond wasn’t spared. In fact, there were three men handling her just by the counter, shoving their members into all of her holes. She must have struggled a lot as her limbs were bound and multiple bruises were present on her bare body.

Finally, something snapped within Robert.

Silently, he stepped into the Tavern.

No one but the red-haired Rose noticed his insidious presence.

Without any forewarning, he blinked across the room, to where Ilynn was swamp with men.

Before any of them took notice to Robert’s sudden appearance, their heads were already rolling on the floor and in Robert’s hand, was an axe.

One of the hounded maids screamed at the bloody scene, attracting and converging all of the men’s focus unto Robert.

“Two Elites, six Novices,” Robert enumerated in his enraged heart. He kept his composure but mercy and restrain were all hurled down the drain.

The man who was pounding the yellow-haired Sunny ceased his act. He put back on his trousers and drew his sword. “Speak your name, fool! You dare to—” he but he was cut short, literally, into three pieces.

Blood dripped from the edge of Robert’s axe.

Various reactions echoed in the tavern but the men have all left their odious acts and began to slowly encircled around Robert.

Robert took a deep breath to sooth his frenzy. In spite of his strained efforts, a portion of it leaked to his face. A smile crept to his face in spite of his furious dolor.

“I am going to enjoy this.”

Depending on the poll, I will decide how my story will go from here.

What do you think of dark bits in this chapter?
  • Too much
  • It was alright.
  • Amp it up, son~!
Total voters: 15 · This poll was closed on Aug 29, 2020 11:53 AM.
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