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“You’re a slave too, aren’t you?”

When those words passed through his ears, Kayden had an epiphany.

‘This old gnome had called me a boy since the very start, despite me looking old on the outside. Since a gnome’s lifespan is so long, I mistakenly assumed he calls anyone younger than him a boy or girl. It seems I made a mistake. He must have seen through my disguise from the very start.’

His eyes briefly widened in shock as he came to that realization. However, as quickly as the expression came, his face turned impassive.

“I didn’t think you could see through my disguise”

Even when Kayden showed his true face to the public, he always kept the mark on his cheek with magic. This meant that his mark currently had two layers of disguise and being able to see through it all was a testament to the old gnome’s capabilities.

Casper snorted. “Of course I could! A racial blessing that we forest gnomes share is the ability to create illusions. Obviously, we would have countermeasures against our own tricks.”

Kayden’s expression was the same as before, yet somehow, the silence was very unnerving. After an uncomfortable amount of time, Kayden laughed, breaking the tension.

“Hahaha, sorry about that.” He dispelled his disguise and unconsciously scratched his left cheek.

“I was a slave, and unfortunately for you, it has been a long time since then. There probably isn't much that I could help you with, but I’ll try my best.”

“Haha, I’m very grateful that you are willing to help. However, it won’t be any use now since I won’t be able to leave. Telling you my story was simply an introduction to myself. We should be friends if we’re going to be cellmates for the rest of our lives.” He explained, laughing at himself.

Kayden smirked, looking like the word ‘smug’ was written all over his face.

“What’re you smiling for? You like the idea of being with me that much?” The gnome exaggeratedly recoiled in fear.

“Oops.” Kayden covered his smirk with his hand. He forgot that he was no longer disguising his face “You don’t have to worry about staying here forever. Just wait for a while.”

“Hmm?” Casper scratched his beard. While he was confused, he decided to heed the young man’s words.

***

“Uh, ma’am… Please wake up…”

The young barmaid hesitantly grabbed the shoulders of a snoring customer, before trying to gently shake her awake.

“And please pay your tab… It’s been three months already…”

“Hmm…? Kayden? Is that you? Don’t wake me up yet, it’s still morning…” An incoherent mumble came pouring out of the customer’s mouth which the barmaid could just barely make out.

“It’s already the fourteenth-hour ma’am…” The barmaid couldn’t help but sigh. This was one of the most troublesome customers she had to deal with on a near-daily basis. Usually, at around this time, a tall man would come to carry her off somewhere. She had tried asking the man for payment before, but it has never gone well.

“Sorry! I’m not paying off her tab! You’re not getting a single copper from me!”

Despite leaving the tab unpaid, the barmaid was still glad someone kept escorting the headache off her establishment.

“It seems that man is late today… I wonder if something happened?”

The barmaid shook the customer once again. Seeing her efforts going to waste, she sighed again and entered the kitchen.

The afternoon sun bathed the citizens of Dragonsteel city in a scorching light as if the God of the Sun himself was launching golden spears of light at them. Owing to the passing of spring and the beginning of summer, the weather was noticeably much more humid.

It was in this searing heat that a big-bellied man jogged across the street. Making use of the shadows of the buildings to block out the sun, he made his way to a bar called the Tense Lady. It stood in between two tall buildings, and its rustic exterior made it look cozy as compared to the brick buildings that surrounded it.

By the time he made it to the front doors of the establishment, he was panting like a dog and leaning against a wall, trying his best to catch his breath. Wiping the perspiration that soaked his bald head, he opened the door and shouted,

“Morgan! I have some bad news!”

The various patrons of the Tense Lady gave the plump man curious looks, before resuming their lively chatter. He scanned the interior of the bar, before settling his eyes on the only sleeping customer.

“Morgan! You… have to be kidding me!”

The plump man slapped his forehead as he made his way toward the sleeping beauty. Her name was Morgan, a renowned adventurer and drunkard. Her outfit was stained with alcohol and her torso laid flat on the table; her arms splayed out.

“Are you serious? You’re still asleep?”

“I heard you the first time... Gustav.” Morgan turned her head to glare at the man, her head still laid on the table as if was stuck. The plump, old man was named Gustav, a tall bald man with a grey mustache. He wore your typical commoner’s outfit, a white linen shirt with loose pants, however, the excessive bulge on his belly did not make him a sight for sore eyes.

“You look terrible!” He observed, before an idea clicked in his head. “Perhaps you’ve heard about Kayden’s circumstances?”

Gustav had heard from multiple sources that a certain infamous criminal named ‘Shadow’ had been arrested. As he knew who that man was, due to multiple dealings with him in the past, he rushed to the only person he knew who could help.

She bit her lip, as she clenched her fists, which trembled violently before she slammed one onto the table, drawing even more looks from the surrounding patrons.

“Heard? Of course, I heard!” Her unfocused eyes suddenly blazed with murderous intent.

Gustav was shocked by her over-the-top reaction but soon collected himself. He supposed that anyone would be angry when their disciple gets into deep trouble.

“Now now… I’m sure he had his circumstances—”

“Circumstances? I DON’T CARE! That ungrateful bastard left me! He didn’t even leave a message—Oh… why did this happen?”

“Don’t be mad, he—Wait, what did you say?” Gustav dug his ears as he couldn’t believe or comprehend what he was hearing.

Tears began to form at the corner of her eyes as she raved.

“Sniff- I raised him for so long and this is how he repays me?”

She grabbed the mug on the table before swiftly chugging down its contents. Her Adam’s apple bobbed up and down as the liquid slid down her throat. Slamming the mug down, more tears started to form as she earnestly began to cry.

“Okay… You’re drunk. Before the boy suffers from any more misunderstandings, I’m gonna tell you what I’ve heard.” He sat down on a stool, the legs bending as soon as they tried to withstand his body weight. Leaning in, he whispered,

“My sources tell me that he was captured after he tried breaking into the museum you told him about. He was put in the Serpent Dungeons for Eden’s sake! At his age, he’s probably the youngest criminal locked up there in history! You should hurry and extract him, or he might not make it for long.”

The ears on Morgan perked up.

“He was arrested?”

“Yes!”

“And he’s in the Serpent Dungeons?”

“Yes!”

“And he… he didn’t leave me behind?”

“Yes…?”

“Great!” She wiped her tears with her sleeves and stood up. “I’ll go get him now!”

“Yeah… You… go do that…”

She vanished on the spot. Gustav was at a complete loss as he stood up from his seat as well.

“Sigh, this master-disciple duo is always a headache.”

“Um, sir?”

“Hmm?” Gustav turned around to look at the barmaid who called out to him. She pulled out a receipt and handed it over to him. Gustav took the piece of paper with his chubby hands and briefly read it. On the paper was a handwritten list of alcohol names with various numbers beside them. At the very bottom, it read:

9 gold 3 silver

“Sigh”

He felt that he was going to cry too.

***

“Okay! Boy, it’s your turn.”

In the depths of the Serpent Dungeons, there was a cell where two inmates were playing… chess.

“I move my pawn from H2 to H4.” Like how Kayden commanded it to, the illusory pawn on the illusory chess board moved itself to the mentioned location.

“Boy, you need more finesse when using illusion magic.” Casper somehow held an illusory bishop between his index finger and thumb despite the piece being incorporeal. He slammed the bishop onto the pawn Kayden had just moved with a loud smack, causing the pawn to completely disintegrate into sparkles.

“See what I did there? I used illusion magic to create the sound of the chess piece hitting the board. Can you not make sounds with your magic? Even my daughter could, you know?”

Kayden shut his eyes. The gnome had been boasting about his superior ability throughout the entire game, and now he even brought his family’s ability into this.

“Shut up old man! I’m trying to concentrate!”

“Tsk! You should respect your elders more, boy. I’m just trying to give you some pointers.” The old gnome tutted and shook his head.

“Hmm… I move my Knight from C3 to F3”

“What?” Casper was aghast. “Knights can’t do that.”

“Just let me have it, old man! Do you enjoy beating the crap out of beginners? Just give me a chance.”

“Boy. You need to play by the rules to properly enjoy this game.”

“Haha, a thief never plays by the rules!”

“That doesn’t even—"

“You guys seem to be having fun.” A rough, female voice called out beside them.

“AHH” Both man and gnome jumped in fright, and the entire chess set exploded into a cloud of sparkles. Casper hid his small body behind Kayden’s and peeked his head out.

“W-what just happened?”

Kayden had a wide grin on his face as he waved the sparkles away from his face.

“That’s my master, and she’s here to break me out.”

“Is that what you told me to wait for from before? That took longer than just a while.” Casper let out a breath. “Also, give me a warning next time, or my old heart cannot take it.”

Once the sparkles dissipated completely, a beautiful woman came into view. She had long, straight hair that was tied into a braid at the very end. She wore a white dress shirt and a sleek overcoat. Her beauty was breathtaking to the point that she looked like she came straight out of a painting. Her eyes were a bright yellow which shone like miniature suns, giving her a very intense look.

This was the first impression Casper had of this lady, and he was enamored.

Emphasis on the was.

A goofy smile was plastered on her face, and with a second look, he could see many brownish-yellow stains on her shirt. She drunkenly swayed on the spot and the smell of alcohol was prevalent on her as she slurred,

“Hehe. What’s this? The legendary king of thieves was thrown into prison? Hah!”

Kayden rolled his eyes.

“You’re drunk again. Besides, I still accomplished what I set out to do. I just met with some trouble afterward, that’s all.”

“Yeah, sure...” She replied, prompting another eye roll. She turned her eyes onto Casper, squinting at him with an unfocused gaze.

“Who’s this halfling?”

“GNOME!” The gnome screeched. “Now I see where he got his manners from. Like master, like disciple.”

Morgan’s eyes shone brighter, and a huge smile was plastered on her face. “Thank you! He’s my pride and joy.” She lifted her arm and pulled Kayden closer so that their shoulders were touching, causing him to wince from his injuries.

“That wasn’t a compliment,” Casper muttered.

“I agree,” replied Kayden.

Morgan pouted.

“By the way, what took you so long? Was it that difficult teleporting in here? There’s some sort of anti-magic barrier here but I didn’t think it’d stopped you.”

“Oh Kayden... I can teleport to anything I’ve set my marker on… no sweat.”

Her face blushed a little, though with how red her face already was from all the drinking, it was near unnoticeable. “Besides, who cares? I still managed to come to retrieve you… I just overslept a bit, that’s all.”

“Yeah, sure…” Kayden parroted her previous reply to his explanation, prompting a jab to the side of his ribs.

Casper already felt a headache brewing. He instinctively felt that if he let their banter continue, he would stand here until the end of time. Facing this imminent crisis, he casually interrupted their chitchat.

“Cough! Not to interrupt your reunion, but we really must go. A guard will come to bring us food sooner or later and you can’t be seen here.” He gave a deep bow, before continuing, “Seeing your abilities, I can only hope that you would break me out. I really need to save my daughter.”

“Impressive, Master! You got this annoying old man to act polite!”

“Oh, was he annoying? …Maybe I shouldn’t bring him out then.”

Sweat began pouring down the side of his face. If they left without him, he would never see the light of day again.

“Oh, Verdant King. Please help me… Don’t let my fate be decided by the whims of these two…”

“Wait, hold up.” Kayden broke free of the hug and walked up towards the gnome. He thought of a very good way to profit from this situation. “How much money can you cough up?”

“… You do know that they confiscated all our belongings, right?”

“Oh yeah. You’re right,” Kayden facepalmed. “In that case, never mind. I never rob poor people.”

Casper’s eye twitched. Both humans in front of him were troublemakers.

“Trip for three! Get ready… it might get a little dizzy.” Morgan said, as she casually snapped her fingers.

In the depths of the Serpent Dungeons, a once filled cell is now completely devoid of prisoners. Only the disturbance in the ambient mana hinted at its past inhabitants.

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A note from Kageko

Being a discovery writer is both a blessing and a curse.

 

Hope you don't find Morgan annoying. I didn't know how to write drunk dialogue, and ended up making her sound like an annoying idiot. This version is a lot more toned-down. Hopefully I got the idea of her being a drunkard across.


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Kageko

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