The bottom of the glass had been seen once again, but there was still no news. Steven had grown slightly dizzy, wondering if he’d drunk the alcohol too quickly. Minnie, on the other hand, poured him another round; this one a full glass. It rekindled the dragon warlock’s hope, and he began to savour it slowly once more. This was a critical moment, and every person of greatness would have moments such as this. The commonality between those who were great was that they grew calmer the more crucial it was. Steven, for all his ambitions, had read many biographies at a young age. He naturally knew such things well. He thus kept his cool, remaining proud in his patience.
The glass was emptied again; and filled again, and emptied again. Once he’d gotten through the entire bottle, Steven could maintain his calm no more. It had been two whole hours! That was more than enough to kill an entire street of people! However, the news was like a stone that had sunk into the sea, nowhere in sight. It never came. Be it success or failure, he didn’t know!
Cold sweat suddenly broke out and soaked his clothes through. When he raised his head and widened his eyes, he saw a Minnie that was just as pale in his blurred vision holding the empty bottle and trembling slightly. She grew shocked when he grabbed her hand, to the point that the bottle crashed down and shattered to pieces. Steven did not get mad over that, however, instead grasping her hand and stroking it gently.
Minnie’s hands were ice-cold in her worry and fear, as if they had just been washed in ice water. In the past she could consider herself separate from the matter and watch on as a bystander, but now she was deeply involved in this conspiracy. Her fate was tightly linked to Steven’s own.
Minnie did not even dare consider the consequences of this conspiracy failing. Even Randolph’s end wouldn’t be a reasonable punishment if she was found out.
“So? Should we flee?” Steven suddenly asked. Fear had already taken over his heart, causing him to lose his rationality. All he wanted now was to leave the Deepblue as quickly as possible and flee to his family’s territory. His future, being a runemaster, the glory— everything that he’d once been willing to give up everything for was suddenly so insignificant compared to his life.
On the contrary, Minnie remained calm in this moment. She drew her hand back and grabbed Steven’s palm, speaking in as calm a voice as she could muster, “No, we can’t flee. Floe Bay is over six thousand kilometres from the Sacred Tree Empire, escape wouldn’t be practical. Besides, are you confident in being able to escape a legendary mage? We wouldn’t be able to escape even one of the seventeen grand mages for more than a hundred kilometres.”
These words finally calmed Steven down a bit, and he began to count on a fluke, “Perhaps they’ve already succeeded…” However, halfway through his sentence, he halted. Even when the alcohol had dulled his senses and his mind he knew that conjecture was laughable.
"What should we do now?” Steven was now completely at a loss. Minnie, who still remained calm, was the only thing he could grasp at to steady himself.
“Don’t do anything!”
“Are we just going to wait?”
Minnie shook her head, “Of course not. I’m saying that we can’t execute any more schemes to target Richard. Nothing at all. Now, if we want to keep ourselves alive, we can only ask for help from our families. Tell them everything that’s happened, and see what they can do for us. If our families are willing to offer enough compensation, then Her Excellency might forgive us.”
Minnie’s words left Steven dismayed and full of despair. He hung his head and grasped at his hair, mumbling, “What can they help me with? There’s nothing! What I’ve done is no trivial matter. The person I want to kill is Richard, the legendary mage’s little lover! Even Father can’t do anything. Though he hasn’t said anything, I know that he must have lost the battle with Sharon… Ah, no! There’s one more way! Declare war! Declare war on the Deepblue! Deepblue has a bunch of mages, but not enough military! Why didn’t I think of this? I should get my father to lead an army to attack the Deepblue…”
Minnie shook Steven as hard as she could, but the dragon warlock’s brain had completely been taken over by the alcohol, and the more he said, the louder he got. While this was his personal residence, Minnie was not sure that there was no magic surveillance or any peeping devices secretly installed here.
Declare war? Declare war on the Deepblue? Even if the Deepblue’s military power was weak, Solam would have to fight through six thousand kilometres of the Sacred Alliance to get to it!
Seeing that this wasn’t enough to stop Steven, Minnie simply carried a basin of ice-cold water and splashed it over his head.
Steven shivered and immediately jumped up. The cold that seeped into his very bones dispelled the effects of the alcohol, and helped him become sober. Seeing the slightly panicked Minnie, he then took another basin of could water and poured it over his head, shaking hard. With a clang, he tossed the copper basin to the ground.
“We haven’t reached the point of complete despair yet…” Steven said slowly. While his voice had gone completely hoarse, the dragon warlock could still give confidence. He pondered over this and walked around in circles. The effects of the alcohol were quickly vanishing, and after suppressing the panic and terror that had been difficult to hold in, various ways of dealing with the matter arose in his mind. While the chances of success were miniscule, there was still hope.
After walking a few rounds like this, Steven quickly made a decision, “Every action can be made up for. Prepare some magic paper and a pen for me, I want to write a few letters. You should also write a letter to Marquis Niall. At this point, he shouldn’t think this has nothing to do with him!”
Minnie quickly perked up, and prepared everything quickly. Steven sat at the table, his pen flying as he quickly wrote four letters. One was to the duke, and two others to Saint Klaus and his own mother. Unexpectedly, the recipient of the last letter was Blackgold.
After seeing the contents of the four letters, Minnie was silently startled. Steven was basically threatening Duke Solam. If the duke did not help him get past this, then he wouldn’t mind making a few things that the duke had been doing public. While he had only touched upon this briefly, even Minnie could see the seriousness of these things done in the dark. While they had nothing to do with the legendary mage, the moment they were made public, the emperor of the Sacred Alliance would immediately be furious. However, the most furious person here would not be that bloodthirsty sovereign of the Alliance, but Peter The Great, Emperor of the Sacred Tree Empire!
The letter to Blackgold was simple. It only showed that Steven was willing to discuss terms with him, and he was willing to consider anything.
Seeing Steven placing the letters into the magic formation, Minnie could not hold it back and asked, “Can this really work? There won’t be any turning back for you and your family!”
“Turning back?” Steven sneered, “Only if we can live past this can we even consider turning back.”
Minnie nodded, spreading out a piece of paper to write a similar letter to her father, Marquis Niall. Having long been abandoned by the man, she had much less of a psychological burden in doing so. Every gold coin she could squeeze out of him would be additional income.
The light of the spell formation suddenly dimmed, completely devouring the four letters. Steven sent out a magic signal of the highest grade, gathering all of his subordinates in the Deepblue to his residence.
Minnie knew the significance of the signal, and could not hold herself back from asking, “Aren’t you exposing everyone now?”
Steven glanced at Minnie and then laughed deprecatingly, “Don’t be naive. Is there anything we have that they don’t know about?”
The dragon warlock subconsciously swivelled the magic ring on his finger, pondering over the current situation, “... Gathering all my people is also actually a show of my stance. It means that I’ve already completed failed and won’t do anything else. Only with this will the other side temporarily set aside thoughts of dealing me a fatal blow right away. Besides, this will also alarm the higher-ups of the Deepblue and make them do something. It would be the most terrifying if they did nothing at all.”
At this point, Steven was basically admitting that all their actions and plans had failed.
However, he thought of another possibility. Within his mind, he cursed at the old mage who had brought him around the Deepblue. It was this silver-tongued old man that had informed him that Richard was a future runemaster, and had also given him some other information. For instance, the fact that Richard was pursuing his education in the Deepblue alone. He had actually believed this and not confirmed it. How could a direct descendant of a large family, who was an important person to be nurtured into a future runemaster, not have helpers by his side?
Steven assumed the helpers the Archerons had sent were twice as strong as the group of assassins that was between levels 10 and fourteen. This might wasn’t anything to worry about, but the few people he had by his side couldn’t match up to that. He’d just made use of direct violence, something forbidden in the Deepblue, so all the higher-ups had to do was remain silent and not intervene in the upcoming battle… At this thought, the fearless dragon warlock shivered.
A moment later, the warrior from before entered the residence. He looked terrible, his eyes sunken and bloodshot. He’d evidently been anxious throughout the night.
He knelt immediately at the sight of Steven, speaking gravely, “Young Master, there has yet to be any news. I am planning to investigate…”
Steven waved his hand and stopped him, “There’s no need to investigate. Bring your people back later, all the orders I had for you are cancelled. Do whatever you wish and act as you normally do when you don’t have orders. If… If you hear any news then tell me, but do not look for information. Is that understood?”
The warrior was slightly confused at first, but when he soon understood what Steven was implying he turned more grim than before. Steven glanced at the magic clock, frowning as he asked, “Where’s the cleric? Why isn’t he here yet?”
Just as Steven was about to get impatient from waiting, the cleric finally arrived. While looking all mysterious, he dragged a large rectangular box and entered, placing it carefully on the ground before bowing to Steven.
“Young master, I discovered this item by chance. It’s said that this is a magic puppet that Richard once used, and because there was no value in repairing it, it was going to be sent to be resmelted. However, I thought it was valuable and that you needed to take a look, so I bought it with 30,000 gold coins,” the cleric said.
30,000 gold coins? Even a magic puppet in the Deepblue was worth a mere thousand, much less one that had been beaten up to the point that it was irreparable. This caused the two to grow extremely curious, while only the warrior doubted the price the cleric had paid out of competition. A puppet that cost not more than 2000 gold coins had been bought with 30,000; the discrepancy was too large. Whether the extent or quantity, both had far surpassed Steven’s bottom line.
The cleric knew how serious this was, and did not spend any more time keeping this a mystery. He immediately took the puppet out and explained quickly:
The one in charge of destroying and melting this puppet down was an able aide of Blackgold’s, and he’d kept muttering to his subordinates that it was extremely strange. Some of the cleric’s friends were amongst these subordinates, so the cleric heard about it and rushed over quickly.
The aide was quite similar to the grey dwarf himself; almost stubbornly persistent in obeying the laws of the Deepblue, but affected by a high enough price. Taking a look at the pupper Richard had used, the cleric had decided to bring it back to Steven immediately, so he’d bought it for the unimaginable price of 30,000 gold coins.
The moment the puppet was taken out, the damage marks on it caught Steven’s attention. The spots of blood left behind were shocking, causing him to reach out and lightly touch the depressions and cracks on the puppet. He asked the warrior, “What do you think?”
The warrior looked serious, “It doesn’t seem like a special move for a specific area, so he should have been hitting it at random. But that strength… It’s terrifying! Only trained level 10 warriors can have such explosive strength! This puppet should be about the level of a knight in half-body plate armour; in other words, Richard is strong enough to the point that he can kill a knight with one punch… Isn’t he a mage, though?”
Although he’d been quite sure of how the assassination attempt had played out, Steven’s guesses took a strange direction once he looked at this puppet. An acolyte with the power of a level 10 warrior? Another chill surged into him. Although it wasn’t all that unthinkable—racial gifts, bloodline abilities, and some powerful magic items could provide such pure strength— how many other secrets did Richard have that he didn’t know of?
For the first time, Steven felt that he had chosen the wrong opponent. But then again, it wasn’t his choice; he was merely an apprentice paying for himself, and Sharon would only nurture one runemaster.
“Why didn’t you give it to me earlier?!” Steven yelled at the cleric.
The cleric had nothing to say in response, because he’d only gotten this news that morning. Being able to bring the puppet back was already the most he could do. How could it be done quicker?
When Steven’s anger calmed slightly, the warrior reminded him, “Young master, the puppet’s head…”
It was only now that Steven realised this was a headless puppet. The head, which should have been the most crucial part, had disappeared, the slit at the neck very smooth. There was no cut from the other side, and it was difficult to determine how it had been sliced off. Seeing Steven’s gaze shift in his direction, the cleric immediately said, “The aide said the head was special, so Blackgold took it for himself. He said it was a collectible that could be sold, but it would be very expensive. At least 100,000 coins…”
A very special head?
“I’ll give you 150 000. Get me that head!” Steven no longer cared about the costs. At the very least, he wanted to know his opponent well and find out how he had lost, and therefore calculate his next move.
The cleric took a look at the warrior and suggested, “Young Master, how about having someone else go instead?”
Steven shook his head, saying, “No, you go. I believe in you!”
The cleric left, looking incredibly touched. Right before leaving, he glared hard at the warrior, eyes full of fierceness.
Steven did not have to wait too long. The cleric was back in a mere half hour, a defeated look on his face as he held an intricate locked copper box in hand. He was hesitant, unwilling to open it, but Steven seized it without a word and opened it with a bang, dragging out the head within. He was then stunned.
This was the head of a puppet as bright and clean as a mirror, looking so new it could reflect one’s appearance. This was indeed very special compared to the body, but that was because there was no damage whatsoever to it.
“Just this cost 150 000 gold coins?” Steven’s voice was so cold that it was like a gale blowing in hell, and sweat soaked the cleric’s back as he could only reply in the affirmative.
Steven suddenly burst into laughter and tossed the head of the puppet into the garbage bin in the distance, “Good, you did this well! It’s good as long as you could spend the money!”
The warrior and cleric both found this behaviour strange, while only Minnie knew what was going on. However, she could not laugh out like Steven was doing. Every dent, every bit of blood on the body of the puppet weighed on her mind. From this puppet she saw a crazed and animalistic Richard, a volcano about to erupt at any point that he usually kept hidden in the depths of his heart. If she had a second chance, she definitely would not choose an enemy like him, just like Steven who was currently yelling abnormally. Why hadn’t they seen this puppet earlier?
That was how Minnie knew that Steven was in an even worse mood. However, the fact that Blackgold was willing to take the money was a silver lining, some good news in the darkness…
In the meanwhile, Blackgold was in a rather good mood as well. Humming a warsong of the Stormhammer tribe, he was organising the Deepblue’s accounts. In the small category called unexpected income were two numbers; first 30,000 and next 150,000. He looked at them again and again in satisfaction after writing them, like each was a huge precious stone. The cost of this transaction was less than ten coins, the amount he’d recover for melting the steel from the puppet; to sell something that should have been tossed into a large furnace for such an astronomical figure was like reaching a new realm of artistic attainment. Who said being a financial officer was just about taking charge of the bills?
The additional income had Blackgold’s senses soaring, and he did not find this amount of money difficult to deal with at all. Since all the money was going into the Deepblue’s warehouse, he was willing to accept the money regardless of the quantity.