A Reward For Honesty
While Richard was weighing the pros and cons of moving up his plans to attack the rebels, the shadows in the room slowly started climbing up towards him. The magical light coming from the walls didn’t dim even once as darkness slowly crept in behind.
DANGER! A chill suddenly ran down his spine, instincts kicking in as he knocked aside his desk and jumped away. The elven sword flew into his hand as he turned around, swinging freely despite the cramped space. A sharp clang sounded as two large shadowy axes collided at his original position. Had he reacted any slower, he would have been cut apart.
The two shadow warriors that had appeared out of nowhere moved forward to chop down once more, but this time their attacks never landed. The elven sword turned into a dazzling green blur that blinded them, seeming extremely gentle as it carved them apart. The green radiance covering the blade tore through the shadowforce that held them together, and Richard shrugged off their soul-ripping screams as though they were nothing.
Extinction suddenly flew into his other arm, a blood-coloured radiance shooting out of the blade as another shower of attacks rained down on the enemies. In only a few moments there were hundreds of crisscrossed slashes on the wall, thin green lines covering these shadow warriors’ bodies. They stood stunned for a second as the impact kicked in, bursting them and their weapons apart.
Four image diamonds popped down onto the floor, bouncing a few times before rolling into all sorts of crevices. Richard stood there with both swords in hand, still in attack stance, but his face betrayed his sheer astonishment. Even he himself couldn’t believe how easy it had been to kill those four nightmare creatures.
The incident where he almost lost his life to a lone warrior and axe felt almost like a distant memory.
The sheer number of scars on the wall served as a testament to how many attacks he had launched in that one moment; a result of the combined speed boosts from Mana Armament and the Lifesbane runes he had on each arm. This was the true power of a rune meant for killing and killing alone! Even the life energy from the elven sword had done very little in comparison.
However, he also felt incredibly drained. Be it his stamina or mana pool, everything had been wiped clean. Both his hands turned limp, the swords suddenly slipping from his grasp.
Lifesbane, as powerful as it was, also drained the user greatly. This was a rune meant for saints, not a level 16 mage. The power of two being activated at once was stunning, but it also left him exhausted.
He let the swords fall to the ground and mustered all his strength to head back to his desk, barely able to find a vitality potion to drink. Even just opening the cork was a huge problem, taking several tries before it came loose.
As he sat dazedly on his chair, quietly waiting for his strength to recover, a few soft footsteps sounded from the hallway outside. They were soon followed by a light knock on the door.
Richard immediately shivered. He was familiar with the old steward’s knocks, and this was certainly not him. It seemed softer, almost like a young lady or a child; both were disguises assassins greatly favoured.
“It’s me, my Lord,” Coco’s voice sounded from the other side.
“One minute,” he struggled to adjust his posture, fetching the Book of Holding from his bosom before placing it on the table. Then, trying his best to feign calmness, he called her in.
A dim light shot out of Richard’s eyes the moment the young lady entered, confirming that this wasn’t an assassin in disguise and she wasn’t armed either. He finally relaxed a little, but continued to keep up his guard. He didn’t know why he felt so, but there was an additional sense of danger to this nightmare attack that he couldn’t pin down.
“It’s late,” he said mildly, “Why aren’t you asleep yet? Is there something bothering you?”
Coco was obviously uncomfortable, both her hands tucked into the corners of her blouse as she searched for the words. It took an entire minute for her to find the resolution to fetch a neatly folded piece of paper from within, opening it and placing it in front of Richard. She then stepped back, allowing him to look through it.
When he opened the paper, Richard’s expression of curiosity turned into one of confusion. “You drew this?” he waved the scaled-down version of the map on his wall around, noting that most of his recent markings were present as well.
“For how much?”
“Someone is willing to pay 10,000 gold for it.”
“You don’t get too many chances to leave the island, how did you get a buyer?”
“Erwin’s… One of the people who were with Erwin looked for me to ask what you wanted to do. It’s one of those who stole the offerings.”
Richard started examining the map closely, “Not badly drawn at all… Did you give it out already?”
“No. I… I wanted to. I thought about it for a long time, but… I couldn’t bring myself to do it.”
Richard smiled faintly, “That’s good, but why bring this to me? You could have just torn it up and kept the secret.”
Coco suddenly mustered up a rare courage, “If I did that, I wouldn’t be able to sleep peacefully. I’d rather be punished than live in fear.”
He dropped the map back onto the table, muttering to himself for a little before asking, “You need money?”
“What? Why couldn’t it just be that I hate you?” she rebutted.
Richard maintained his smile, “You need money?”
Coco’s courage disappeared at once and she lowered her head, “Y-Yes…”
“You get thrice of what a normal partner gets.”
“It’s not enough,” the girl forced herself to meet his gaze, “My father’s debts, brother’s trial… It all needs money.”
“And 10,000 would have been enough?”
Richard nodded with understanding, thinking once more to the saying to encourage truthfulness amongst those around him. He rapped the table lightly, seriously considering her problem for a moment, “Alright, I can forgive errors in judgement as long as they don’t result in betrayal. Honesty should be rewarded; since you didn’t sell this map, I’ll consider this a non-issue. Your father’s debts are easy to take care of, go tell the steward that I’ve authorised him to pay it off. As for your brother… That’s an entirely different story. He isn’t exactly an angel, is he…
“Well, we can have someone watch over the fellow to make sure he doesn’t suffer more than he’s been sentenced to. I can also offer some compensation to the victims, but whether they choose to forgive is up to them. As for the specific amounts, have the steward figure it out.”
Coco’s eyes suddenly watered up, face flushing with relief as she almost started crying loudly.
Richard rolled up the map and shoved it back into her hands, “This was drawn well, don’t waste it. Sell it to whoever you wanted, but 10,000 is so low. 50,000, minimum.”
Surprised, Coco raised her head, “No! I can’t do that!”
“Why not?” Richard laughed, “It’s not like you’ll be doing it without my permission. If these idiots want to throw money at us, who are we to refuse. Your initial price was just too low, though. Intelligence on the Archerons is more valuable now than it was before.”
“Then… Then I’ll change the marks on the map!”
Richard chuckled again, “No, give it to them as is. So what if they know my plans, how can they stop me?”
Coco nodded gently, but the words she was about to say suddenly died in her mouth. All of her courage faded away as her face turned a bright red at the thought of what she wanted to ask.
Richard’s smile suddenly dissipated as he waved her off, “Alright, I’m tired now. Go back and get some rest.”
As Coco quietly closed the door behind her and bounded away, Richard suddenly let out a long sigh. A forced smile sprang up on his face, “We don’t have any problems with each other, why do you have to treat me like this?”
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