The man glared at Erin immediately, saying in a self-righteous manner, “But this isn’t the first time you’ve stalled. The Deepblue’s laws allow me to ask you to return the money immediately. If you don’t want to, you can come with me and work to pay off your debt, or scram!”
The man then turned towards Richard, his expression shifting to a smile so fast it was like magic, “Lord Richard. We probably shouldn’t have appeared here, but we’re acting according to the laws of the Deepblue, which we wouldn’t dare to ignore. Her Excellency once said contracts must not be blasphemed, and this woman hasn’t returned the debt or even paid interest. She doesn’t even provide services as per the law! Don’t be taken in by her pitiful appearance!”
Although he seemed extremely respectful, the man’s words revealed his unyielding nature. Although the Deepblue did not have many laws, those that were in place were as strong as steel. Even grand mages didn’t have the right to break them, forget someone like Richard.
Richard furrowed his brows and turned to look at Erin, seeing the terror and recoil in her eyes. She didn’t even dare to meet his gaze. He balled his hand up, and the fireball floated several metres into the sky before dissipating into a small explosion.
Such exquisite control over magic immediately caused the three men to have a change in expression, and they couldn’t help but take several steps backwards. While what they were doing was reasonable, given the difference in their positions if Richard injured or disabled them in a bad mood the most they would get was gold in compensation.
Richard’s eyes swept over them, “I’ll repay her debts on her behalf. Now scram!”
“But…” The man in charge was obviously unwilling, secretly peeping at Erin who was hiding behind Richard.
Richard snickered, “What, you doubt my words?”
The three immediately went pale and answered no. However the leader suddenly glared at Erin and said fiercely, “Just you wait, little thing. Don’t you go home alone!”
Richard turned grim, and the three immediately hastened their footsteps. When their figures disappeared into the distance he turned and looked at the girl, who was hugging herself quietly. He sighed, “How much do you owe them?”
“One— One thousand and two hundred gold coins.” Erin’s voice was soft, with some obvious tremors in it. Her shoulders shook slightly, making it obvious that she was crying with her head down.
Richard wanted to speak, but eventually he stopped himself with just a sigh. He clearly remembered the time when Erin had been unwilling to ‘earn’ his money, but in less than a year that had changed. If she hadn’t been at the end of her rope this girl wouldn’t have told him about the magnitude of her debt, and the very act of doing so meant that she’d left her purity, her ego, and her pride all behind her in one year. The girl who’d poked her head through the bathroom door with a sunny disposition was no longer there.
Richard’s heart squeezed involuntarily. Part of it may have been because of that ‘It’s not as if you’ve never earned money from a man’s body before,’ but mostly it was because the amount that left her at her wit’s end was a mere 1200 coins.
Even a year ago that was worth a mere two mana potions after he’d tested his magic. Now he didn’t even drink normal mana potions because they were weak and slow, and he basically ignored the last four digits of his monthly bills because, be they four zeroes or four nines, it was all the same.
Richard was quiet, and it was difficult to see any fluctuations in his expression. He only asked calmly, “I’ll return this sum for you. Are there more?”
Erin hesitated, and then whispered, “I still owe a few other people four hundred gold coins, but I’ll do something about that on my own…”
Richard interrupted her, “A total of 1600 gold coins, right? No problem.”
Erin finally raised her head, but before that she hastily used the back of her hand to wipe at her face. She looked at Richard and smiled helplessly, combing her hair with a newfound calmness. “But I have no way to earn that much money, at least within half a year. I have nothing at all, except myself. If you want me, you can look for me anytime.”
Richard seemed not to hear anything she was saying. He took out a memo and wrote a receipt, signing his name on it before he shoved it into Erin’s hands. Without even saying goodbye he strode towards his residence.
However, he suddenly turned back after a few steps. The girl had yet to leave, and her two hands were hugged tightly around her as she crouched where she was. He sighed inside once more and walked to her. Erin lifted her head, gazed up at Richard, and whispered, “I- I’m very afraid. I’m sorry…”
“Because of those men?”
Erin nodded silently.
Richard stretched his hand out to the girl, “Let’s go. I’ll send you back. I want to know who has the guts to stop you.”
Richard’s words had a faint trace of killing intent. Now that he had already promised to return her debts, he did not mind giving them a lesson to remember if those people dared cause trouble, or perhaps even sending them down to hell himself.
The residents of the main tower of the Deepblue were completely different from those at the borders, with a huge disparity in power. Even if he killed someone all he needed to give was monetary compensation, and if the other party provoked or humiliated him first he had no need to do even that.
Erin grabbed Richard’s hand and stood up with his help. She then retracted her hand and stayed a half-step behind Richard as they walked. The road from the main tower to the borders was a long and quiet route, and there were few people here in the dark. There were some who walked about hastily, but nobody spared the two another glance. A bustling day had depleted everyone of their stamina, and all they wanted to do was to return home and have a warm night of good sleep. There was more work waiting for them tomorrow.
Both Richard and Erin remained silent along the way, not saying a single word. They had no idea what to speak about despite a year having passed.
Erin’s home was in a little alley at the outer regions of the borders. It was a confined room that didn’t reveal the scenery outside the Deepblue, the windows inside more like decoration as they opened inwards to the wall of a patio. The magic lamps burning within were the only source of light.
Similar homes could be found everywhere in the borders, and those with windows showing the outside cost thrice of four times as much as those without. Although a few scattered towns surrounded the Deepblue, most would rather stay at the borders even if these houses were dark. There was still more dignity in living at the Deepblue than in those towns.
After sending Erin to the door and memorising the location, Richard turned to leave, intentionally not meeting Erin’s eyes of anticipation. The dark night here was extremely quiet because of the cold weather, the poor fuel for the lights extremely unstable as they flickered and swayed. They formed large shadows that were like monsters from another plane, crawling everywhere, about to leap out and hunt their prey at any time.
For some reason, Richard suddenly felt slightly cold. This was already near the outermost part of the borders and it was -10° C, but Richard’s robes were naturally better than normal. No, this was not a natural cold, instead a dark wet chill that met his body like a glacier that had not melted in ten thousand years. Even the air had frozen, making it feel like he’d fallen into a room of reptiles with something slithering past his back on occasion. Richard soon felt a thin layer of sweat break out, and his clothing soaked completely and stuck to his body, making him feel extremely uncomfortable. He breathed out and loosened the button at the collar of his mage robes.
However, he burnt himself when his finger accidentally touched the emblem at his corner! At some point the emblem had begun to emit a hazy lustre, and had become boiling hot. This was a unique item possessed by all of Sharon’s apprentices, both a show of status as well as a tool to detect malicious intent. For it to become so hot meant that an enemy was nearby, and they were not hiding their killing intent!
Richard suddenly froze. The shadows behind him arched as a humanoid figure rose from within, It tore out like the shade was a cocoon before it pounced forward like a cheetah, thrusting a dark grey dagger with no sheen towards Richard’s lower back.
The attack was merciless, and had been performed at such close quarters. Even the most well-trained of warriors would find it difficult to evade a surprise attack such as this, much less an acolyte who had yet to reach adulthood. Hitmen and archer-types had always been nemeses of mages, with one being at close quarters and the other from a distance.
Despite all that, however, the dagger was deviated the moment it came in contact with the robes. It remained unable to penetrate the fabric, but the hitman wasn’t rattled in the least as he quickly focused the power on one point and thrust with more strength. The magic robe immediately lit up in a dim yellow, beginning to expand as they activated a translucent shield.
The hitman immediately felt as if his arm and weapon were in dense mud, and it was difficult to brandish his weapon. However, this was not the first time that he was assassinating a mage, and was experienced against magic shields. He continued to focus the tip of the blade on the same point, using all his strength to push the dagger further in. A loud noise rang out as a huge hole was created in the robes.
However, behind the robes was nothing. The hitman had to toss them away with a wave of his hands, and he saw that Richard had already used the opportunity to dart towards a dark alley several metres away.
The hitman immediately grew delighted, a companion of his would be in that alley, but even if Richard was seeking his own death the payment differed based on who killed him. The man immediately sped up, his body practically parallel to the ground as he began to close in on the youth at twice the speed.
Perhaps he had been too hasty in escaping, but Richard suddenly stumbled and actually tripped. In a hurry he reached out and grabbed a metal bar at the side of the alley, probably trying to use that to steady himself.
The hitman who was only a small distance away from Richard was immediately delighted. Richard now was a live target for him, and he could definitely kill him before he escaped into the alley. The moment Richard entered the place, it would be difficult to steal him from his companion. As fast as he could, the hitman thrust his dagger towards Richard’s ribs.
However, the youth suddenly revealed a completely different strength with the metal bar in his grasp. Using the bar as a pivot he drew a half-circle with his body in the air, smacking into the wall to dodge the fatal blow just in time. The hitman’s efforts were rendered fruitless, and because of the strength he’d put in he couldn’t control his direction anymore. The assassin only brushed past Richard with his momentum, basically revealing all the vulnerable points of his body to his target. Thankfully this was a mage, if he was also a hitman…
Even as the hitman was thanking his luck he suddenly saw the target’s right hand twist. The fixed 3 foot bar broke off from the outer walls, and the youth used the bar as a dagger to thrust into the man’s ribs. Richard twisted the bar inside, digging through the ribs to break his spine and tear the nerves it was attached to. This left a gaping hole in the assassin’s abdomen, the few unremarkable little movements leaving behind fatal injuries that even a high-levelled cleric could do little about. Richard’s methods were clearly amongst the most exquisite in the underworld.