7. A Broken Promise
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Leaving Lauren to Nightingale and his magic familiar, Harold walks into the dark forest alone as he equips the ring that he had taken out from his bag earlier. Feeling the power within the piece of jewelry, he attunes to its magic as he heads towards the bandit encampment. Being slow and deliberate with his steps, he makes sure he gets accustomed to the magic item before arriving at wherever he needs to be. This attunement process takes about an hour for the black knight to complete before he is able to successfully use the ring’s power as his own.

Getting to the outskirts of the camp on his own time, the armored man notices that the bandits were not lazy as they had set numerous simple traps and alarms to keep intruders and wild animals out. “And here I thought this was going to be easy…” states Harold as he begins dismantling the basic traps set around the camp. Taking his time to not alert anyone, he finishes the task quietly as he prepares for his infiltration. “Muffle…” he whispers a spell as the sound of his plate armor and footsteps become inaudible to the ear. With his next action, he activates his newly equipped ring’s property as he disappears from sight. Leaving only footprints in the dirt, the black knight enters the bandit hideout unimpeded.

Looking around, he sees that the bandits are celebrating as they drink and party the night away. Checking every nook and cranny that he could find, it seems that the captured villagers are not in the immediate vicinity. Where the hell is this fucking kid? Harold silently curses as his patience begins to run thin. Noticing a couple of grinning criminals fixing their pants as they walk back to join the festivities, the black knight goes to where they had come from and discovers a cave. There is only one tired guard on the lookout making it easy for the unseen man to pass by him unnoticed.

Entering the cave, it does not take him long to find an illuminated room occupied with women in cages. Seeing this, Harold grudgingly sighs as they are not the people he is looking for. Disappointed, the black knight leaves the area to look elsewhere as he explores other parts of the cave. Walking about the dimly lit corridors, he spots something very peculiar from the corner of his eye. Heading towards it, Harold becomes concerned at what he had found: a complex drawing of a large circle with different glyphs and runes surrounding it.

A Teleportation Circle… and a permanent one too… the man thinks to himself. These bandits must be in cahoots with some sort of mage… one that is at the very least capable of casting 5th level magic. Dammit all! For all I know, they must’ve already teleported the boy elsewhere!! Knowing the dangers a high leveled wizard poses, Harold loses his laxed attitude and sharpens his focus. Unsheathing his sword in preparation of the possible fight that is to come, the black knight continues his investigation. 

Searching for clues to where Paul was teleported to, the Freese children’s guardian quickly moves from one place to another within the cave. Finding only empty storerooms and dead ends, the black knight is becoming increasingly frustrated with the situation on hand. If only the mage was still around here, I could just pry the coordinates from him. Hanging onto that hope that the mage in question is still around, Harold moves with a renewed goal as he goes deeper into the cave. Eventually, he does find something that lifts his sour mood a bit: an opaque wall made of dark mist and fog where his vision can’t pierce through.

A Private Sanctum? Here?… the black knight grins. Perfect. The mage must be inside. Entering through the magic barrier, the guardian notices that there is an iron door: the kind that you would find in an upscale residence with decorations and an intricate design. Harold snorts at the perceived gaudiness as he takes the time to silently cast a preemptive spell. “Detect Magic…” he whispers as the black knight notices a faint aura emanating from the entrance. Having become visible again due to casting his magic, the guardian murmurs another preemptive spell. “Dispel Magic…” Harold mutters as the faint glow from the metal door disappears. With all the precautionary actions done, the black knight takes a firm hold of the doorknob and enters the mage’s quarters with a creak.

What the black knight sees upon entering is a lavish room overdone in posh amenities: purple silk drapes the walls, an ornate bronze and glass chandelier hangs from the ceiling, and fine ebony wood furniture adorned with soft cushions. These are some of the more extravagant items seen as Harold takes notice of the surprisingly lack of magic he senses from his divination spell, especially the lack thereof from the person working at a large desk. Their appearance is a bald man who looks to be in his 40s who sports a dark brunette mustache connected to a goatee and is dressed to the nines much like the abode he resides in. Dipping his quill into an ink well and writing on parchment paper, the mage does not even bother to look up to see who had entered his private sanctum. 

“Didn’t I tell you ingrates to knock before entering?” irritatingly states the wizard. “And wipe your damn shoes before entering. I don’t want any dirt getting on the carpet,” he continues without lifting his head. The guardian approaches the desk and promptly cuts it in two clean halves with an upwards strike. This gets the attention of the mage as he yells out, “What in the hell?!” He finally looks up and sees the black knight brandishing his sword at him. “How did you get in here?! And do you know how much that cost me?! You brute!!”

“I came through the front door,” Harold states as he flings the right half of the desk across the room as it crashes against the wall with a loud boom. “And I really don’t care how much you spent on the décor.” The black knight then swings his blade towards the wizard and stops it at his neck with the edge barely nicking the skin. “Tell me where you sent the people that you’ve captured recently before I lop your fucking head off and if you do anything funny…” the guardian threatens as he pushes his longsword closer to his victim’s neck causing the mage to bleed a little in unison. “Well… you get the gist.”

With a stoic expression, the wizard sighs. “If that is the case… then let me get something from the inside of my jacket pocket for you…” he states as he slowly reaches for the inside of his cloak. Feeling Harold’s sword cutting into his neck, the mage then takes out what looks like to be a stone carved to resemble one half of a face. 

“A Sending Stone?” the guardian asks rhetorically as he recognizes the magic item. Coming to a realization that the man in front of him must play some sort of part in a larger scheme, Harold takes the carved stone and sends a short message to whoever owns the other pair. “I have your lackey with me and if you don’t tell me where he teleported the recently captured people… I’m going to fucking kill him.” It does not take long for the guardian to hear a reply from the other side. 

“Heh. Like I care. Go ahead and kill him,” snickers a voice identical to the captured mage. Hearing something unexpected, the black knight crushes the Sending Stone in his hands as he turns it into dust. Harold then faces his captive as he gives him a death stare.

“I take it that you didn’t like the answer that my boss gave you?” the wizard smugly remarks. Finding the mage’s pretentious attitude very annoying, the guardian deftly swings his sword and chops the man’s head off in one fell swoop. Instead of blood and gore though, the head hits the ground and shatters into ice as the body dissipates into snow.

“Simulacrum…” Harold growls. “SON OF A BITCH!! I SHOULD HAVE FUCKING KNOWN!! GOD DAMMIT!! NOW I HAVE NO FUCKING IDEA WHERE THAT FUCKING KID IS!!” With his anger and frustration at its peak, the black knight proceeds to kick the other half of the desk; breaking it apart into bits and pieces. “FUUUUCK!! I’M GOING TO FIND THAT SHITTY WIZARD AND I’M GOING TO TEAR HIM LIMB FROM LIMB!! I SWEAR TO FUCKING GOD!!”

“MASTER!!” someone telepathically yells at the guardian as he has his temper tantrum. The guardian immediately recognizes the voice as his magic familiar. “THERE IS TROUBLE!!”

“NOW WHAT?!”

“THE GIRL!! SHE RAN OFF TOWARDS THE BANDIT HIDEOUT ALONE!!”
“ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME RIGHT NOW?! I THOUGHT I TOLD YOU ANIMALS TO KEEP AN EYE ON HER?!”

“She… she slipped past our guard while we weren’t watching… our apologies master…”

“You… IDIOTS!! DAMMIT ALL TO HELL!! LOCATE LAUREN FREESE!!

Putting his sword away, he uses the divination spell to quickly pinpoint the teenage girl as the guardian sprints towards where his ward is. Going through the dark corridors and dodging stalagmites as he follows his magic’s vague directions, it does not take him long to find Lauren’s location as he arrives in the same room where the women in cages are kept. There he sees a rather gruesome scene unfolding before his eyes. 

Surrounded by a pool of blood, Harold sees Lauren straddling a bandit on the ground as she repeatedly stabs him in the chest with a dagger. The black knight does not know how long the teenager has been doing this, but it looks like it was long enough for her to make a large gaping hole in the long dead corpse. With gore splattering the surroundings, the girl is covered head to toe in blood as she doesn’t stop for even a second to rest. 

“What the fuck?!” the guardian exclaims as he quickly approaches Lauren as he notices the wounds on her body and face. “What the hell happened to your eye?!” The teenage girl ignores his question as she continues to viciously attack the corpse as if her life depended on it. Seeing how badly damaged her right eye is and the fact that she is in a manic state, Harold tries to stop her from attacking the dead body any longer. “Hey!! Are you listening to me?! You need to stop so I can take care of your injured eye!!”

Grabbing onto Lauren’s wrist, the girl violently tries to shake off Harold as she screams and yells. “LET ME GO!! LET ME GO!! I’LL KILL YOU!! I’LL FUCKING KILL YOU!!” Despite her thrashing and flailing, the guardian’s grip is too strong for her to break out.

Seeing how scared and how frantic Lauren is, the black knight cannot help but grimace as he remembers the promise that he gave to her dead father and his late friend: Leonard Freese.

Harold… I want you to… I want you to promise me that you’ll take care of my children… Make sure that they grow up safe and protected… Can… Can you do that for me? 

“I’LL KILL YOU!! I’LL FUCKING KILL YOU!!”

The teenage girl struggles to break free as tears run down her face. It is obvious to the guardian that Lauren cannot even recognize who he is at the moment as her instincts have pushed her into a fight-or-flight response. Seeing that there is no other choice, Harold decides to cast a spell onto her. “Sleep…” the black knight states as he waves his hand over the girl. Watching his ward’s remaining eye flutter to a close as her body goes limp and falls into his arms, the guardian gently lays her body onto the ground. Taking out gauze and a container filled with a vibrant crimson red liquid, he uncorks the bottle and pours its contents onto the bandage as he carefully applies first aid to Lauren’s damaged eye. Watching over her sleeping face, Harold laments his regret. “Leonard… I fucking told you I couldn’t keep them safe…”

Seeing that most of the caged women are barely conscious, he notices that one of them is still coherent. “Hey, you. Can you understand me?” he states pointing to her. The caged woman nods in response to the black knight’s question. Seeing her silent answer, the guardian stands up and heads towards her cage and slices apart the metal bars and frees her before sheathing his blade again. “Make sure she doesn’t wake up and do anything stupid until I come back.” Not waiting for a reply, he exits through the only entrance to the room. “Wall of Force,” he evokes a spell as an invisible wall is conjured behind him. With eyes filled with rage and fury, Harold steps out of the cave as he meets a group of clueless bandits heading towards his location.

With grins on their faces, they quickly lose them as they notice who is coming out from their hideout. “Who the fuck are you?” asks one of the bandits, but the man in question does not answer. Instead, the black knight unsheathes his sword once more as he continues towards them.

“Stop right there, asshole. Or else this won’t end well for you.” After stating so, the criminals give each other a look as they take out their short swords and daggers. Despite the weapons they brandish, Harold does not bat an eye as he ominously walks towards them in silence.

“Are you fucking deaf? We told you to stop!!” the marauder yells as he reiterates their demands. Seeing that this unknown man is not listening to them at all, the group of bandits unanimously decide to charge at the black knight as they foolishly believe that he will answer to violence.

Being attacked by three men at once, Harold responds appropriately. He parries the short sword that is being swung down at him with his shield as he knocks it away and out of the bandit’s hands. He then slices a different assailant diagonally with his longsword causing his blood and guts to splatter about. And lastly, he swiftly kicks the last bandit in his knee causing it to bend in the opposite direction, breaking it and causing his attacker to yelp in pain. 

“W-what…?” the bandit questions as he sees his weapon get knocked away as his companions fall to the ground either dead or screaming. He is not given another moment to comprehend what is going on as he feels his skull split right down the middle as he falls over with his eyes upturned.

“AAHHHH!! M-MY FUCKING LEG!! OH MY GOD!!”

“Holy shit. You’re so fucking loud and annoying,” plainly states Harold as he places his sabaton on the criminal’s head and promptly squishes it underfoot with a crunch.

“What the hell was that screaming?”

“I think it came from the cave. Did someone invade the hideout?”

“Ahh shit. The Boss is not going to like this! Come on!! We need to check it out!”

Hearing off in the distance that more enemies are coming to his location, the black knight lets loose a disgruntled sigh as he looks towards the stars above. “What a shitty night to be me.”

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