The Art of Killing
“What?!” The great mage suddenly felt his entire body turn cold, as if he had jumped outside the window into Floe Bay, naked. He had never imagined Richard would ask him something like that. While this boy was more taciturn than the average child, he was still a twelve-year-old who was diligent and ambitious. Here he was, wanting to kill someone?
All the works of art Richard had drawn before appeared in the great mage’s mind in that moment. The boundless strength hidden within them… the great mage realised that he was wrong in treating Richard as an ordinary little boy.
Some twelve-year-old human nobles were extremely mature, while fifteen was their standard for adulthood. Outside human control, some beast tribes considered children who were six or seven to be matured as well.
Coming to this thought, the maestro stood tall and asked with seriousness, “I do know someone you’d like to meet, a true expert at murder, but first tell me why you’d need to learn how to kill.”
“Runemasters are harbingers of war,” Richard answered, “Only by learning how to kill can I create outstanding rune knights.”
Richard’s answer left the great mage helpless yet again. It took him a few deep breaths, but he eventually managed to suppress his feelings and speak slowly, “That’s a great reason. It sounds untrue, but never mind that. Any reason is good enough as long as there is one. As for the person I was talking about, his name is Naya. Many years ago, most everyone called him the Blade of Calamity. You should be able to get what you want from him.”
Richard nodded, bowing primly to the great mage before he handed the man a sheet of paper. The maestro thought it was an assignment, but it was actually a proof of payment signed by Richard, showing that the great mage had taught him a certain number of lessons. Most of these lessons didn’t exist, but with this receipt the maestro would be able to get gold from the Deepblue. It would amount to over ten thousand extra, an amount he couldn’t just ignore.
This process was extremely safe as well, because one-on-one lessons was something students paid for themselves. The Deepblue would check with Richard for this, and if there was no harm to their finances, they naturally would not pursue this matter further.
Seeing this proof of payment, the artist’s mage went into chaos. Was this a bribe?
“Richard!” he called the boy who was about to leave, grabbing his messy hair to ask, “Why ask me for help?”
“Because I thought it would be the easiest way.”
“Then what if I didn’t help you? Who would you look for help from?” The grand mage did not back down.
The great mage suddenly understood. In little Richard’s eyes, those who worked in arts and played with gold were both quite unreliable, which was why he had chosen this place. However, he was very curious about something else, “Who will you look for if this doesn’t work out?”
Richard answered instantly, “Those grand mages who only want to teach students!”
Late into the night, Richard left the Deepblue’s main towers to arrive at some buildings at the borders.
There were many mages within the main towers, with at least twenty to thirty people serving them each. This pushed a lot of people into the surrounding areas, because the rent in the main towers wasn’t something any mage below level 10 could afford. Even a little room with only a bed was impossible to get.
The external districts were graded into different regions based on their distance from the main towers. The ring closest to the Deepblue had many mages, most of them below level 10. They didn’t have the means to stay in the Deepblue itself, but they could somewhat settle in the outer regions with difficulty.
Covered up in a dark cloak, Richard weaved his way through numerous districts to reach the outermost one. He sensed all sorts of gazes trained on him on the way, some from arrogant level 8 mages and other malicious ones from shady characters.
Most were of curiosity. After all, those who wandered these districts were acquainted with each other or at least had seen each other before. That made strangers very eye-catching. It was the marking of a level 3 mage on the cloak that helped Richard avoid a great deal of trouble.
At the end of an alley that was dark and devoid of people stood a worn-out little tavern. There was a huge gash on its wooden signboard, where one could barely make out the crude image of a half-naked woman. The door was ajar, revealing the dimly lit and quiet interior of the tavern without any bards. The only thing that made it outside was the pungent smell of alcohol.
It was now winter, and the harsh cold was everywhere. The Deepblue had its magic to keep the inner regions warm, another factor leading to the high rent in the place and the arrogance of the residents, but a small alley outside the main tower like this was very cold. With a tavern of this size, even if it supplied heating that would only make it slightly warmer than the outside; an entire month’s profits would not be able to support keeping it at room temperature for a day.
The bit of warmth was quite substantial in Richard’s senses, but most ordinary people did not find much of a difference between -30 and -50 degrees celsius. In such terrible weather and with such a remote location, this tavern obviously would not have many guests.
Richard pushed the tavern door open and walked in. The tavern was not very large, with only three tables, and the bartender was a man of average physique and appearance. His half-grizzled hair was beginning to show his age.
Two tall, sturdy men dressed in tattered clothing were sitting at a table in the corner, leaning comfortably into the wall as they ate and drank bit by bit. The alcohol smelled strong, which meant it had come cheap. Paired with that was a small plate of an unknown sliced meat, so dry that it seemed to have no water at all. Just the sight of it could make anyone lose their appetite, but these men were ever so careful as they picked it up piece by piece, chewing and trying to appreciate the taste before they took several large gulps of the strong alcohol. It was just a small plate, but by the looks of it they wouldn’t finish it by the end of the night.
Richard took a look around, understanding the situation here soon enough. The man behind the bar cleaned a glass while shooting Richard a glance, “Little guy, didn’t your mother tell you that you can only drink after you become of age? Of course, if you have the money, I wouldn’t mind pouring you a glass or two.”
Richard lifted his hood and spoke, “I’m not here to drink. I’m looking for someone.”
“Who?” The bartender seemed interested.
“The Blade of Calamity.” The moment these words left his mouth, Richard felt like he’d fallen into an icy cave. He froze so stiff he couldn’t even move a finger, and all parts of his body except his head stopped listening to him. The chilly air assaulting him pierced his skin sharply, feeling like the pinpricks of millions of needles. This was the first time in his life Richard had been exposed to killing intent.
It was like time itself had stopped. The two men by the table halted all movement, maintaining their poses. One was stuck pouring the drink down his throat, while the other still had a piece of meat that was so thin it seemed translucent held high in the air.
However, they didn’t seem immobile like he was. While their movements did stop, their gazes locked on to the boy. Their expressions said nothing.
The man behind the bar stopped cleaning a glass, gazing at the flickering candles on the wall. It took him a moment to return from his memories, after which he turned towards Richard, “That’s a name I haven’t used in a long time. Call me Naya; anyone who knows about the Blade of Calamity is a friend. I’m curious, though, what does a child want with me?”
“I want to learn how to kill.” Richard’s words were to the point, just like always.
“Because I feel like I’ll need the knowledge soon.”
Naya nodded, not pressing him further. He switched tracks, “This is the Deepblue, even if it’s an outer region…”
“I’ve prepared the fee.” Richard answered.
The corner of Naya’s lips curved as he smiled, the icy sting of the killing intent disappearing, “My lessons are expensive. I’ll need at least 500 gold coins everyday.”
Richard produced an intricate magic pouch, opened it, and poured out a pile of flickering gold coins onto the bar counter. “I’ve prepared a thousand, so teach me everything you can.”
Naya nonchalantly glanced at the pile of gold coins in front of him and chuckled, “Isn’t a prepubescent child with so much money unafraid that I’d gobble you down, seeing as you ran into the nest of a killer? I’m guessing that guy who loves drawing women introduced you, but that guy is a spineless person and can’t be trusted. So, tell me why I shouldn’t kill you right away.”
“Because I only brought the gold coins for today.”
Naya grinned even more brightly, “Smart kid! But it’s best if you give me another reason. Sometimes I do things for money, but other times not so much. For safety’s sake, it’s best that you don’t assume that I just want that bit of money.”
Richard hesitated for a while before speaking again, “My name is Richard, Richard Archeron. I’m a personal apprentice of Her Excellency Sharon, and the son of Gaton Archeron.”
The smile on Naya’s face froze, and he suddenly coughed out some spittle, yelling at the two men at the table, “What do you say, guys?!”
The man on the left put his glass down, “Those two are maniacs! If you do anything to this boy here, Gaton will drag you out of hell if need be, and Her Excellency will make sure you regret ever having lived for the next thousand years.”
The man on the right placed the meat back on the plate and looked at little Richard, saying, “Don’t you think this little guy is interesting? Teaching a little guy like him must be very fulfilling and profitable! If you think you’re earning too much, pass him to me. It’s been over a decade since you were the Blade of Calamity anyway, who knows if you can still move that blade quickly enough anyway. I need money now!”
“You can keep dreaming, Redbeard!” Naya yelled, swiping all the coins on the counter into his pocket like he was afraid they’d go away if he was too slow. His gaze on Richard changed slightly, “What I’m going to teach you isn’t just how to kill someone, it’s how to destroy a life. We start now.”
It was early morning when Richard returned to his residence. He saw the steel puppet that was ridden with wounds on the way to his bedroom, and the eye-catching head devoid of any damage. He stopped to gaze at it for a while, before sighing suddenly and muttering to himself, “I won’t need you anymore in the future.”
He brushed past the puppet, his left hand barely discernible as it brushed the puppet’s neck before he headed towards his room.
With a clank, the puppet’s head silently detached from the body and crashed to the ground, flying a far distance. The cut at the neck was as smooth as a mirror, like it’d been sliced by a sharp blade.