“Well he did say that the rings would help hide our identities,” I said, breaking Lily out of her trance.
Really, you’d think that we’d get used to it by now, I thought, as I began walking down the street.
“That fucking Kai! I almost had a heart attack. Would it kill him to explain this shit properly?” Lily said, frowning.
“Indeed. His explanations are truly lacking,” said Amy.
I nodded. Kai was keeping a lot of secrets. In fact, one of my two sub-goals was to ‘determine Kai’s identity,’ but so far the results had been startlingly low.
I essentially knew only what he’d told us outside Vandrake Mountain, which was strange because I’d been trying to probe him for details for an entire day and had nothing to show for it.
This was the first time that my Ability hadn’t given me results for a sub-goal. Whenever I pursued this sub goal, it would show me no hints or suggestions, almost as if it couldn’t see through Kai either.
“Hey, do we even know where this ‘Betern Inn’ is?” asked Lily.
“Hmm? Betern Inn?” I thought, recalling the Inn that Kai had told us to go to.
Isn’t that the Inn from the game? Why did he want to meet up there? Well I suppose it must be pretty famous around here. And it is in a great location too.
“It should be at the end of this street, just before the Duke’s Mansion,” I said. “We should go reserve our rooms first, in case they run out of space. We can go shopping later. Oh, and Lily.”
“We’ll be relying on you for the funds.” I smirked.
“Sure, I just struck it rich after all,” she said, bringing out a pouch and lightly tossing it in the air.
“What the...? That’s mine!” I said, grabbing it quickly.
“You might as well give it back. I can take it whenever I want you know?” she smiled, wickedly.
Damn it! This fucking-
“Let us proceed. I am looking forward to a bath.” Amy said, interrupting my thoughts and walking down the street.
Lily and I exchanged a glance and followed her.
Yeah, a bath would be nice.
“Dad, stop dancing. You’re bothering the customers!” shouted someone just as we opened the doors of the Betern Inn.
A small black haired girl was glaring at a tall, bespectacled man who was dancing between the tables of the Inn while delivering orders with one hand and drinking beer with the other.
“It’s okay! It’s okay! They like it. Don’t you fellas?” said the bespectacled man as he spun around and gestured to a rowdy table of drunk middle aged men.
“No! Get the hell outta here old man!” said one of the drunkards.
“Old man? I’m only 47!” said the bespectacled man as he placed a steaming dish in front of an old lady.
“Dad, the fish is gonna burn!” came a voice from the kitchen.
“Oh right, coming!” said the bespectacled man as he rushed towards the kitchen.
The black haired girl sighed but she quickly perked up as she saw us.
“Welcome to the Betern Inn! I’m Altis Betern, how may I help you?” she asked with a smile.
“Ah, we’d like four rooms for the night.” I replied.
“Certainly, please come this way,” she said, walking behind the counter besides the door to the kitchen.
“One night is five Tels, so that would be 20 Tels. Would you like anything else? Meals are three Tels per person per meal and you can use the private baths for two Tels per half hour,” she said, bringing out a file.
“We’re going to try some of the restaurants we saw on the way over, so breakfast for four and four baths please,” said Lily.
“Very well, that will be 40 Tels please,” she said.
“Here you go.” Lily said, placing four 10 Tel coins on the counter.
“Thank you for your patronage!” Altis smiled.
“Oh, new customers! Haven’t seen you around, are you from out of town?” came a voice from behind us.
We turned around to see the bespectacled man standing with another dish in his hands.
“Yes, we came from Bedford,” I replied with a smile.
“Bedford eh? The Water Kingdom’s pretty far away, you guys must be pretty amazing if you managed to come all the way here,” he said, raising a hand in front of us. “Gerard Betern, owner, chef and waiter of the Betern Inn.”
I smiled, shaking his hand.
“I’m Deryl Lauritz, and these are my sisters Mia Lauritz and Aris Lauritz,” I gestured to Amy and Lily.
“Hi.” said Lily, shaking his hand.
“Pleased to meet you,” said Amy, giving him a slight nod.
“Well, since you’re new here and all, why not let me show you around?” he said, smiling innocently.
“No way! Get back to work, dad,” said Altis, sternly.
“Fine.” He pouted, placing the dish in front of a middle aged man before walking back into the kitchen.
“He’s always trying to get out of work. You’d think he’d stop doing that after mom died but...” Altis sighed and then smiled.
“But he’s got a point. Would you like me to guide you around town?” she asked, facing us.
“Is that okay? You look pretty busy here,” Lily said, glancing at the room full of guests.
“Of course it is, dad does most of the work anyways!” she grinned.
Aren’t you the one running away from work? I thought, sighing inwardly.
“Well if that’s the case, why not?” said Lily, gesturing for her to follow us as we left the Inn.
“That’s the Ashpoole Glass factory,” Altis said, pointing to a tall gray building to our right.
“And that’s the Genim Cafe, their cakes are famous all over the Southern Continent,” she continued, gesturing to our left.
“Over there is The Quarry, it’s the best restaurant in Ashpoole but it’s pretty expensive,” she said, as she pointed to a black stone building.
“Money isn’t a problem,” said Lily, grinning and walking towards the restaurant.
As we sat down inside and ordered our meals, we asked Altis about Ashpoole and learned several things about the city and the Fire Kingdom in general.
For one thing, the Duke of Ashpoole didn’t have any real authority since his only duty was to enforce the King’s laws. And since Ashpoole was a prosperous city, crime was low and the people were happy.
However, since it was surrounded by mountains and volcanoes, travelers rarely came to Ashpoole so it was somewhat isolated from the rest of the world.
I leaned back in my chair after finishing my meal, sipping a glass of wine while closing my eyes to savor the taste.
“...yeah, hope he died.”
“...little girl ripped to pieces.”
“...man with no life in his eyes.”
“...old lady’s guts all over the place.”
“...good thing he’s gone. That Ashfiend.”
I frowned as I heard the conversation from the table behind me.
Ashfiend? Wasn’t that a mid-tier boss in the game? Why would...
My eyes widened.
“It’s getting late, we better leave.”
I got up from my seat and hurriedly left the restaurant.
“Hey wait!” Lily said, paying the bill before following me.
Amy and Altis followed soon after, both with confused faces.
If the Ashfiend is still alive, that means he’s had a thousand years to grow just like that dragon!
“Slow down Ru-Deryl! What the hell are you running for?” Lily complained as I rushed down the street.
Too many people here. It’ll take too long to get back. Damn it, so that’s why Kai told us to meet him at the Inn. It’s the only building the Ashfiend can’t enter in the game.
Wait… how did he know that?
Whatever, we have to get back there first.
But this crowd’s too thick, it’ll take too long to get through.
I frowned before rushing off into an alley. I heard the others following behind me.
“Damn it! Stop running!” Lily said.
“Where are we going, Mr.Lauritz?” said Altis, panting for breath.
Tsk, I forgot she came with us. She won’t be able to keep up.
I slowed down.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Lily said, as the others caught up to me.
“No time to explain, we have to get back to the Inn. The As-”
A scream rang through the air.
I turned around.
In front of us stood a short, black robed figure wearing a creepy black mask without eyes. The figure was surrounded by a whirlwind of ash and soot, swirling around it but never touching its body.
Altis lay on the ground at the figure’s feet, a black blade pointed at her neck.
“Wha-who are you?” Lily asked, reaching for her knife.
The figure pressed its blade against Altis’ neck, drawing a drop of blood.
“The Ashfiend, I presume,” I said, taking a deep breath and donning my poker face.
The figure looked up at me. It was even shorter than Altis, which made me frown inwardly.
The Ashfiend in the game was much taller. What is -
My thoughts were interrupted by a grunt as Amy leaped towards the Ashfiend.
No! If it’s as strong as the dragon, it’ll...
The Ashfiend didn’t react, or rather, it couldn’t react as Amy smashed it away with her sword and grabbed Altis.
She tossed Altis towards Lily and turned to face the Ashfiend who had crashed into the wall.
I frowned and stepped over to her, pulling out my own sword.
Did this mean it didn’t become stronger after a thousand years? Besides, something doesn’t add up. The Ashfiend in the game was only supposed to attack outsiders. Why did this one attack Altis?
Confused, I waited for the Ashfiend to rise before using Appraisal.
I turned around to see Lily lying in a pool of blood, a bloody figure standing next to her.
“You!” Amy said, her eyes wide in shock.
The bloody figure smiled, wiping her knife with her dress.
“God, I hate it when I have to do all the work,” said Altis, with a slightly irritated look on her face.
Altis Betern. Title: Cashier of Betern Inn. Hidden Title: Heir of the Ashfiend. Level 280. Ability: Soul Devourer V.24
“Stop messing around and finish them, Hart.” she said, casting her cold blue eyes towards the other Ashfiend.
The other Ashfiend - Hart - got up and brushed the dust from his robes. His hood had fallen back, revealing black hair and cold blue eyes just like his sister’s.
He looked barely eight years old.
“I had this covered sis.” he said, ash swirling around his head as he frowned.
Hart Betern. Title: Dishwasher of Betern Inn. Hidden Title: Second heir of the Ashfiend. Level 119. Ability: Soul Devourer V.25
“What is the meaning of this?” Amy growled.
“Hart, you take care of the other one. The red head’s mine.” she said, ignoring her.
Amy frowned and readied her sword but stopped as Altis pointed her knife at Lily’s throat.
“She’s still alive... barely. But we wouldn’t want to change that now would we?” she said, smiling.
Amy bit her lips.
“Fine.” she said, dropping her sword and kicking it to the side.
Idiot! Don’t do that, she’ll-
“What are you looking at?”
I lifted my sword just in time to parry the ashen blade that appeared behind me.
“You don’t have the time to worry about her. You’re mine,” said the tiny Ashfiend, with a crazed smile on his lips.
“Hmph, don’t get cocky kid. This is the big leagues,” I smirked, as I pushed him back.
Hart frowned but then started smiling again.
“They usually start begging for their lives at this point. Especially after they realize that they can’t see our Status,” he said, calmly.
It was my turn to frown.
“What do you mean? We can see your Statuses just fine.” I said.
“Stop bluffing. That’s not possible, your levels are too low,” he said, furrowing his brows.
Our levels are too low?
“Kai, you really are a piece of shit aren’t you,” I mumbled.
“What did you say?” He said. “Whatever, I better finish you off quick. Dad will be mad if I stay out for too long.”
He brandished his blade and rushed at me but I didn’t move. Instead, I activated the spell I had been preparing.
“Blizzard!” I shouted.
Strong winds blew around me, blowing shards of ice and clumps of snow all over the alley.
Hart grimaced as the ash swirling around him started getting blown away by the snow and wind.
I saw his eyes widen as I appeared in front of him with Void Step. I raised my sword and aimed for his neck.
“Stop or I’ll kill her!” said a cold voice from behind me.
I stopped, the tip of my sword inches from his throat. I turned around, my expression calm.
“Like I said, kid. Don’t get cocky.” I smirked as I saw something move behind Altis.
“This is the big leagues.”
Altis’ eyes widened in surprise as she was smashed from behind and flew all the way across the alley towards me.
I raised my sword, waiting for her to get impaled on it.
“I was right wasn’t I, you guys are amazing.”
Another figure jumped in front of me and grabbed the little Ashfiend out of the air.
I didn’t react at all since I’d suspected that he’d be here too.
“Hello Mr.Betern. Weren’t you busy at the Inn?” I asked, nonchalantly.
The black haired, bespectacled man smiled.
“Oh, I closed up early. My children hadn’t come home yet so I was worried sick,” he said, smiling.
“Children can be such a bother, can’t they?” I said, nodding with a faint smile as I Appraised the man in front of me.
Gerard Betern. Title: Owner of Betern Inn. Hidden Title: 13th Generation Ashfiend. Level 480. Ability: Soul Devourer V.23
13th Generation? I see. The Ashfiend is an inherited title. Well, at least he hasn’t been gaining power for a thousand years.
I inwardly let out a relieved sigh.
“So, Mr.Betern. Now that you’ve found your children, how about that bath we paid for?”
“Sure! You’ll love my ash-bath. All my customers say it’s to die for!”
A swirling mass of ash collided with my blizzard, spraying gray clumps of ash and snow everywhere.
“That was terrible.”
“I know. Sorry.”
“No you’re not.”
“As much as I enjoy butting heads with you, figuratively speaking, I must unfortunately finish you off now. It’s a school night after all,” he said, holding Altis in his hands as a whirlwind of sharp ash particles spread out around him.
"I’m not done with you yet!”
An explosion resounded through the air as a bright, white light crashed into the Ashfiend from behind.
Caught off guard, Gerard coughed out blood as he directed the whirlwind of ash behind him, barely managing to deflect the worst of the attack into the air.
“Dad!” shouted the little kid behind me as he rushed forward.
I quickly punched him into the wall, knocking him unconscious.
“Hart!” shouted the blue eyed girl as she fell from her father’s hands and rushed towards her brother.
A red blur appeared in front of her, knocking her into the ground where she lay still.
“Altis! Hart! How dare you! You fiends!” shouted the bespectacled man as a wave of black ash burst out from him, cascading over itself and slamming into the walls.
Bricks and stones were chipped away and the already dark and dirty alley became an even darker shade of black.
“Fiends? Now that’s ironic,” I said, rushing at him with my sword.
Amy slashed at him from the other side as Lily readied another Laser spell.
The Ashfiend raised his head to the sky and roared just as the cloud of ash surrounding him was cut apart.
Blood flew in the air, mixing with the dark ash before falling on the ground.
Gerard Betern smiled, blood dripping from the corners of his lips.
“You’re not from Bedford, are you?” he said.
“No.” I replied, my sword buried in his shoulder.
He closed his eyes.
“Will you... kill them too?”
I looked at the kids lying on the ground, a layer of ash covering their unconscious body like a blanket.
I stared into the bespectacled man’s eyes.
“You really love your family, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do,” he said with a smile.
Then he raised his head and looked up at the night sky.
“You know, you can’t see the stars after a volcano erupts.”
“I know. Too much ash and sulfur in the air.”
“Well...it’s a good thing I got to see it one last time then,” he said, closing his eyes.
What? Shit, don’t tell me!
Red veins started bulging on his skin as his body started glowing with a dark light.
“Run!” I shouted, letting go of my sword and stepping into my shadow.
But it was too late.
I felt a massive force push my body as a searing pain ripped through my skull.
Then everything went black.
No, I didn’t fall unconscious.
Everything, literally went black.
- Nobody Knows Me
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