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A note from Belgianfri

Hey guys! Its shout-out time! Yes, I know, again. Still, Jack0fheart was nice enough to make me some art for free, and his new fiction Goblins glory is pretty damn good. It's about a sword saint that gets immortality at the cost of becoming a goblin. Give it a read if you have the time!

 

Read 10 chapters ahead on patreon!

 

Discord: https://discord.gg/YHZFB4HMHD

A few hours later the thick foliage started to thin, the ground started drying up and the trees started becoming smaller again. We were through the worst of it, and were now leaving the swamp.

I heaved a sigh of relief. This meant that we had escaped the swamp monster successfully. Despite the fact that I had fought several tough battles before, none had managed to threaten my life apart from the ambush by those hired mercenaries, and now, the encounter with that beast.

I could heal from a lot, but was my constitution high enough to defend against one of those tentacles? The tier 3 archer had been turned into meat paste under the speed and strength of the attack. I didn't think my dark form would function any better under those circumstances.

Thankfully, we were now entering more familiar territory.

 


 

Three days later, a giant spire could be seen on the horizon. We had entered the Torrential plateau shortly after leaving the swamp. It was a desolate place with few trees. There were extensive grass and wetlands as far as the eye could see, not a farmer in sight. I supposed that meant these lands were hard to farm and not fertile enough for larger populations. Like that, we had travelled, setting up camp every night.

The mood had been grim with one of our members dead, all of us too weak to save him. Doran, Emer and Cara were having a hard time forgiving themselves. Well, Emer and Cara were, at least. They had expressed their guilt openly.

With Doran, emotions were a subtler thing. I had gotten to know him a little over the past month and could tell from the lack of his usual up-tightness that he, too, was hurting. There wasn't much I could do or say to console them.

Encountering a tier 5 monster had been bad luck, there was nobody at fault. If anything, the guild was on the wrong for sending us along such a dangerous route in the first place. It was supposed to be for security's sake, but look where that had gotten us.

At least the giant spire on the horizon cheered us all up a little. The end was in sight.

 


 

I know that Garrett and Doran had described Coldwater palace as a large structure, but holy shit, that thing was big! Earth mages had raised it out of the earth, I knew, but who the hell was powerful enough to raise a castle to the sky?! The top of the damn thing disappeared into the clouds!

 

The murals and carvings were mesmerizing. They looked like scars in the rock, knitted together to tell a story. Extended sword strikes, I knew. I was working on my own version of them, in fact. Hopefully, my efforts would culminate in a skill. Clearly, the Duke had been successful in doing so.

As we approached the gates, the epic size of the spire became more and more ridiculous. The gates themselves could probably fit 80 Barnolds stacked on top of one another!

Noticing our arrival, a smaller set of gates opened inside of the larger ones, guards pouring out to lead us inside. Doran dismounted his horse and walked up to the strongest-looking one.

"Greetings. I am Doran, tier 4 [Paladin] and witch hunter. I have come with my fellow hunters to escort an item belonging to the duke."

Doran took out his identification token and showed it. Tokens were magical, and would destroy themselves if they were separated from the owner against their will, which made them trustworthy. The man he was talking to had kept his helmet closed, though a scruffy grey beard poked out of the underside of his vizor.

"Aye, I heard what happened. You fellas brought Oscar's sword, didn't you?"

"I haven't heard of an Oscar, but we did bring a sword, yes."

"Good. Oscar didn't care 'bout much but that piece a' metal. T'would be a shame if it was lost. Well, come inside. The Duke is waiting."

The guards made way for our group and escorted us inside. The inner halls of this compound were similarly ridiculous in height and width. I was starting to think the Duke was actually a giant or something.

The walls were a flat, smooth surface of light grey stone, giving it a manufactured feeling. There was not a hint of decoration anywhere to be seen, apart from the occasional grooves in the walls, signifying the existence of a door or stone gate of some kind.

We were brought to a chamber at the side of the hall. It was warmly decorated, with blue carpets, some oak furniture and a lit fireplace. There were tables scattered around, each filled with steaming hot food. The guard leader spoke up.

"Well, help yourselves. We have servants to lead you to the rooms where you'll be sleeping tonight."

Our group actually cheered at the declaration. A few days of hunted meat, followed by a few days of dry rations made one desperate after a while. I was about to sit down, when the guard grabbed me by the shoulder.

"You're the one called Arthur, right? You're eating with the Duke, tonight. Bring the sword."

He turned around and walked off. I was at a loss for a moment, but with a nod from Doran, I gathered my senses and followed the guard.

The two of us walked through a number of halls and went up far more stairs than I'd like to remember. Eventually, though, we approached an ornate white door, inlaid with sapphire gems and golden rims. Nobles sure had money to burn, huh.

When the door opened, the smooth, boring walls gave way to similarly decorated walls. The room looked like something out of a fairy tale.

Every piece of furniture was made out of white wood, golden cutlery and even blue sapphire gems that were enchanted to give off light.

The guard that had led me here marched forward and stopped a few paces away from a large dining table that stood in the centre of the room.

"Duke, young Duke, I've brought the man known as Arthur. He claims he has brought the sword."

From the head of the table, a man raised his head. He didn't look a day over thirty-five. He was clean-shaven, had dark-blue hair courtesy of his water affinity, and a stone-cold look on his face.

"Very well, you may leave."

The guard turned around and left, shutting the door behind him. Now I was standing at the entrance of the room alone, awkwardly wondering what to do.

I noticed that on the Duke's right, a young man was seated. He looked similar to the Duke and had the same hair colour. I couldn't really determine his age. He was either a recently awakened, or would awaken soon. If I was right, he would be around my age.

He was looking back at me with an apologetic smile on his face. He had picked up on my distress, while the Duke was still calmly eating.

After a few minutes of this, the son elbowed his father lightly. The Duke looked up in surprise and redirected his eyes to me. Realisation dawned on his face, in fact, he looked like he had just remembered something he had forgotten.

"Sit down, young man." he said authoritatively.

I was still at a loss of where exactly to sit, though. Thankfully, the young duke nodded straight ahead of himself, signalling me to sit on the Duke's left. I did so, but waited to eat until the duke gave me the go-ahead.

I didn't need to wait for long, as it was his son that initiated a conversation.

"Make yourself at home, Arthur. Can I call you Arthur? I'll call you Arthur. How was your journey? Did it go well?"

His jovial tone made him seem rather excitable. I was happy there was at least one person here that knew how to hold a conversation, so I reciprocated.

"Feel free to call me Arthur, young Duke. The journey went mostly without issue, though we lost one of our number in an attack by a [Terror swamp centaur] as we traveled through the Rainlight bog."

"I'm sorry to hear that."

He did look sorry. It surprised me a little.

"I'm sorry, too. We were too weak."

The duke was the one to respond this time. He did so while continuing to eat, as if he was unaware of my presence. I didn't think he intended to disrespect me by doing that, though.

"Don't blame yourself. Tier 5 creatures can't be bargained with. The fact that you only lost one member shows that you handled the situation well."

"Not many tier 2 warriors have survived such encounters, either. Helios knows I wouldn't." the young Duke added.

The duke looked at his son.

"You would."

The young Duke smiled widely.

"Thanks for your confidence in me dad."

The Duke turned back to his meal. "You're welcome."

 

With that said, I dug into my meal, making some more small-talk with the young Duke. He wanted to be called by his given name, Cerion. The Duke hadn't interjected, so I had accepted his request.

About half an hour later, we were done eating. The servants cleared the table and vacated the room. The Duke turned to me.

"Now that we have some time, where is the sword you claim to have recovered?"

I summoned the tier 4 sword from my spatial pouch, scabbard and all. I even took a knee next to the Duke and offered it to him ceremoniously for a bit of extra flair. Plan 'get backing' was a go.

The Duke picked it up and drew it from its scabbard. He whirled it around a bit, testing its balance. Eventually, he sheathed it again.

By this point, I was sitting across from Cerion again.

"This is indeed Oscar's sword. You say you retrieved it. Where did you get hold of this weapon?"

The mood turned grim.

"I was tasked to kill a necromancer. One of his animated skeletons was behaving strangely and ignoring his orders. That skeleton was holding this sword."

The Duke inhaled deeply, almost sighing. He put the weapon on the table. His entire posture seemed to fold in on itself. Clearly, he had cared about this Oscar a lot.

"Oscar fought beside me for the past 200 years. I considered him my brother. He was never quite strong enough to pass his tier 5 trial and stalled there for a long time. Still, he was an amazing warrior. I highly doubt a tier 3 necromancer could have killed him. Furthermore, I have my doubts about your claims of defeating this necromancer as well."

This was it. All or nothing. I summoned a letter out of my pouch and slid it across the table. It was my tier 2 status page, certified by the guild leader. This was a huge risk, but I had to take it. At least, I felt like I did.

The duke took the letter and opened it, perusing its contents for a few minutes. The guild leader had written a letter vouching for my character and personality, including an extensive file that documented the background check the guild had done on me. It was a lot of information to give to a stranger, but that information also included how my uncle had gotten an affinity crystal from the king. The Duke wouldn't be able to kill me outright without consequences if worst came to worst.

Lastly, it included my full report on the necromancer and the evidence the guild had gathered in the meantime that supported my claims.

After a while, he put the letters back on the table.

"What is your intent in showing me this information?"

Hook, line, and sinker.

"I want your support."

He looked at me sceptically.

"Support for what? I won't support anything that goes against my morals and principles."

I smiled confidently.

"I want your support to be free, anywhere, anytime. Don't get me wrong, my understanding of freedom does not involve hurting others. The moment you feel I no longer hold up to that standard, you can call our deal null and void."

I looked at him nervously. I could feel the sweat drip down my back slowly. Even Cerion was on the edge of his seat because of the tension.

 

The Duke stared at me for a few moments, before a small smile appeared on his face.

 

"As long as you don't betray yourself, I can do that."

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About the author

Belgianfri

  • Your holiness

Bio: I like fries. The belgian kind.

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