Interlude – A Knight’s Duty
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In her sixteen years of life (and a couple of days of undeath), Sarah had never felt this tired — which was incredibly irritating, considering her revenant status was supposed to come with infinite stamina.

For the past three days, without a single moment of pause, either Leon or one of his more senior disciples sparred against her, constantly pointing out her flaws and generally making a fool of her.

And that Leon just keeps going for hours! And he’s like seventy, too. I’m beginning to doubt I’m the undead one here.

 They hadn’t even eased up against her during the night. Julian had oh-so-helpfully lent them one of his better wights, and it was her sparring partner throughout the night. At least the wight she could score some hits against, but that was barely any consolation.

Sarah’s body could keep going on, but her mind felt on the edge of collapse. They had not gone easy on her at all, not in the slightest. Julian had made sure they knew she could tank just about anything without dying, and that earned her a couple of swords through her arms, chest, and legs whenever she lost her focus.

Still, as much as she wanted to stab them all in their sleep — even Julian, oaths be damned — she couldn’t begrudge them for the training. She had all but asked for it, and even though she hadn’t had the spare moment to check her Status, she knew she was improving by leaps and bounds.

Gah, why did my big fat mouth had to explain what a training montage was? I fucking did this to myself, ugh.

Sarah’s distracted monologue earned her another stab through her left arm. She had turned off the pain ages ago, as soon as realized she could, but it still startled her enough to stumble to the ground. She quickly scrambled to her knees, bringing her sword into a high guard, ready to parry the blow that was sure to come soon.

To her surprise, the blow never came. Leon had dropped his sword, and was studying Sarah with a contemplative gaze.

Oh no, I bet he has some new torture ideas. Sweet Jesus, why did I agree to this.

“We’ll stop here for the day. Your attention is completely spent and continuing would only make you pick up bad habits.” He picked up his sword and gave her an easy smile. “You know, you lasted much longer than I expected. I’m actually impressed. Keep it up.”

As Leon made his way out of the courtyard, she just stared dumbly into the distance. 

I’m… free? I’m free! Her face split into a grin.

“Don’t forget to be back here by dawn tomorrow! We’ll pick back up where we left.”

Of course, he wouldn’t let me off that easily. The bastard. But she was still smiling as she left to explore the town.

***

Sarah sat on a bench as she gaped at her Status. She had known that she improved significantly over the past days, but this was ridiculous.

 

Name

Sarah Benett

Level

17

Class

Death Knight

Species

Revenant (Human)

Status

Health

75/100

Stamina

Willpower

3/100

Attributes

Strength

3

Dexterity

3

Intelligence

1

Constitution

1

Endurance

1

Will

1

Unassigned

13

Skills

Swordsmanship

45

 

She’d gained a whopping forty levels in swordsmanship, and a hefty thirteen levels overall. Sarah cursed, berating herself mentally — if only she’d taken a moment to check her status while fighting and distribute all the new stat points, she was sure her beating wouldn’t have been so one-sided. 

Whatever. No point crying over spilled milk.

Sarah grinned at the prospect of returning to the next day’s training all powered up. As far as she knew, the whole Status and leveling thing was a hero thing. Most people only got little access to the System, for important notifications and the like, so turning up in the morning several times as strong was bound to wipe their grins off their faces.

She was glad she hadn’t gone for Endurance with her original stat points, since her revenant status completely removed the need for stamina. At least, she thought Endurance was linked to stamina, but her assumption was based on books and video games.

Assigning ten points to Strength and the remaining three to Dexterity, she closed her Status and gave her body an overdue catlike stretch.

When she’d been summoned to this world, she had just appeared in the middle of Ardenburg, the capital of the Duchy of Canneria, where she had been promptly shuffled to the palace before being sent to kill the Dark Lord. Come to think of it, now was the first time she actually had the chance to do some exploration. With that thought in mind, Sarah got off the bench and started in a random direction.

Sarah's first stop along the way was to purchase some much-needed clothing. Her attire had not survived the training session intact. She'd only realized she was wearing practically tatters after a few minutes of getting strange looks from everyone she passed. Anticipating more of her outfits dying a violent death, she stocked up on multiple sets of simple, comfortable training gear. 

As she left the store, she was surprised to hear an unfamiliar voice calling out her name. Turning around to the source of the voice, she saw it belonged to a familiar face. A tall, ashen woman with ember hair that Sarah recognized as one of Leon's older disciples was approaching with an easy stride and a hint of a smile on her face. Sarah didn't know her name — if she'd introduced herself before attacking, the knight was much too spaced out to notice. But Sarah remembered how the woman had gotten her good through the thigh, and it caused her to tense involuntarily.

The woman either didn't notice or didn't care, and began to speak as she approached. "Hey! I don't think I gave you my name first we met — I'm Lynn." She continued after Sarah gave her a terse nod. "I heard it's your first time around here, so I thought I could show you around and stuff. Maybe grab a bite while we're out?"

Sarah shook herself out of her stupor and gave a nervous laugh. “Um, yeah, sure!” She straightened up and then added. “I’m sorry, It’s just that the last time we met you were trying to stab me, and…”

“Oh, no problem, I get it. I’d be wary too, in your shoes, I think. And I wasn’t trying to stab you, I got you quite good if I remember right.” Lynn’s face broke into a smug grin.

“I’ll get you next time, I promise.” Sarah was already anticipating wiping that grin off her face. The extra stats would make a pointed difference, at the very least. “Anyway, where to?”

“Well, there’s this place that makes the greatest seafood skewers, they’re pretty much almost world-famous! I’m sure you’ll love them…”

***

Sarah did, in fact, love the skewers, despite not needing to eat anymore. She also decided she loved Ravenrock. Back on Earth, she’d been a big city girl, and she’d gotten used to being just another face in the crowd. Here, though, everything was so much more… personal. It made her feel warm and comfortable and welcome in a way she hadn’t felt before.

The sun had already set several hours before, and Lynn had invited her to sleepover at her house. Sarah had declined, since she didn’t need to sleep and wanted to do some exploration on her own, but agreed to accompany the woman to her home.

They were chatting and laughing as they walked down a secluded alleyway when several presences made themselves known ahead of them. A scarred, burly man walked forward from the group, twirling a dagger with his left hand.

“Aye there, lassies, ye know how this goes. Hand over all yer valuables and ye get to walk away. Make a sound, and…” He raised his dagger in front of his throat and made a slashing motion.

He was quite surprised to see a different reaction from the pair than he had been expecting.

“A mugging, on my first day out? Seriously? This is so cliche it’s not even funny.” Sarah sighed as she fell into her now comfortable ready stance. She didn’t have a sword with her, but for a bunch of thugs like this, it wouldn’t make much of a difference.

“Banter after we’re safe,” came a disapproving comment from Lynn. “I’ll take the left side.”

***

A minute later, Sarah and Lynn were standing around the five unconscious bodies, looking hardly worse for the wear. Lynn’s face was the very picture of disdain, while Sarah was pensive.

“Is stuff like this common?”

“What, petty crime like this? Pretty much, yeah.”

“I thought the guards were supposed to keep the people safe.”

Lynn snorted. “As if. Sure, they’re useful to deter the bigger stuff, like bandits attacking the town, but scum like this knows how to slip through the cracks. The deaddies are stupid and predictable, and low-level criminals like these,” she kicked one in the shin, eliciting a moan, “learn very quickly how to avoid their patrols and not draw attention. I’m pretty sure there’s a veritable criminal empire skulking around in the dark.”

Sarah was conflicted. “Why doesn’t anyone do anything about it? Or even just tell Lord Crane? I’m sure he-”

“Bwahahahaha, tell Lord Spookyface? Most people think he’s gonna ignore them at best, and steal their souls at worst.” Lynn shook her head. “Plus, it’s been done before. He comes in, cleans house, then a month later another group pops up. There’s no point.”

She wasn't yet sure why, but this didn't sit right with Sarah. Back on Earth, there had been crime, sure, but it tended to stem from systemic reasons — poverty, mostly. It wasn't something that she would have expected from a small prosperous town like Ravenrock. A handful of criminals from time to time, sure, but a recurring problem? Sarah thought she smelled rat.

"I don't think it's this simple. If you want to continue home, feel free, but I want to investigate this. There's something bothering me."

"Huh, it's a wild goose chase, but why the hell not. Count me in."

Sarah turned her attention to the leader of the sorry lot of thugs. Interrogation was not something she'd seen outside of novels, but she didn't have any other leads. She tried to calm herself, willing her face to adopt a disdainful expression. Sarah wasn't sure if she succeeded, but it'd have to do. Kneeling next to him, she lifted him up into a sitting position and snapped her fingers in front of his eyes to wake him up from his stupor.

"Thuggy. If you answer my questions, I'll let you off with your life. If you don't, well, just know I work for the Dark Lord." The threat was empty, and she was banking on the man filling the gaps with his imagination, but it worked either way. He paled and nodded frenetically.

"Now, something easy. What's your name?"

"Samuel, ma'am," he staggered.

"That's good," Sarah encouraged, "now, Samuel, why is your little gang here, attacking random people in the dark?"

"I don't understand?" He stammered, nervously. "We just want to make some gold?" Samuel had averted his eyes as he answered. There was something there. A facade.

"Do you take me for a fool?" She sneered. It was a stab in the dark, but the thug cringed. "Now, who do you work for?"

"I don't-" he began, but it turned into an anguished scream as Sarah stabbed him in the thigh with his own dagger.

For a moment, Sarah was as stunned as the thug. This wasn't who she was. Or at least, this wasn't who she thought she had been, before coming to this world. Even if he was a criminal, she'd never thought she could just hurt an unarmed man like that. 

But she had, and worst of all she didn't feel anything about it. No, that was a lie. As much as it disgusted her to admit it, it had felt good.

Is this because I'm not human anymore? Or has this been the real me all along? 

It's this feeling of… control? She'd been at the mercy of others for most of her life — a flash of phantom pain tore through her as memories of humiliation came unbidden. And now she was the one with the power.

No. I will not let myself become the bully.

At least, she hoped.

Sarah shook herself out of it. She didn't want to have hurt the man for nothing. The knight schooled her face into a severe scowl.

"Do not lie to me again. Who do you work for?"

"It was Lord Every, oh gods please-"

"The old Baron's son?" Lynn interjected. Sarah jumped. She'd forgotten the other woman was there.

Samuel nodded fervently. "Aye! The others too— he found us in Selwyn, paid good coin to any who'd make trouble in Ravenrock. Swore he'd make us nobles once he took back the town."

Sarah paced up and down the alley as she digested the information. The exiled noble was making a play for Barony — she didn't know the circumstances of his departure, but she had picked up that the old Guard had followed him. It wouldn't have a real fighting force, but it still made him a threat.

It took her a minute to realize why the situation was bothering her so much. As informal as their relationship was, Julian was still her Lord, and that worm was encroaching on his domain.

"Hey, calm down. Sure, sending thugs to harass people is a dick move, but you don't need to get so worked up."

Lynn's words hit Sarah like a cold shower. She was right. Yes, some annoyance was justified, but where had that overwhelming anger come from? 

But it wasn't something she could deal with now. She would have some pointed questions for Julian when he got back.

There was, however, the other issue up in the air — how to deal with the never-ending stream of criminals. And Sarah thought she had the perfect solution for it — after all, who didn't like to fight fire with fire?

"Okay, here's what we're gonna do," Sarah said as she turned around to face Samuel and his band of marauders. "Your men are at least somewhat loyal to you, yes?"

The man nodded, afraid to speak. 

Sarah grinned as she spread her arms. "Good, because starting today, you’re all working for me."

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