City of Sin

Chapter 31

Deepblue Aria

Every year, on the last day of April, Norland’s seven moons would hang side by side in the beautiful night sky. This day was said to be a life-changing moment for many, and was known as the Day of Destiny.

The Day of Destiny was a festival celebrated by many countries on the continent, and was also common with many less intelligent tribes, especially those who practiced magic.

It was said that this was a day when all the Gods would hear the voices of their followers, sending spokespeople or even transforming into mortal forms themselves as they roamed the streets to listen to their people. The devout would receive rewards, while the unbelievers would end up empty-handed. Only those who’d crossed planes knew that folklore would remain folklore.

Nonetheless, there truly were many life-changing things on that fateful day. Alice’s rune knights had broken through the combined ranks of Solam and Niall in a brilliant ambush, counter attacking the rune knights of the combined army. 20 against 18, the disadvantage to her, she’d lost only 5 knights to wipe out her opponents completely!

This was a battle that would decide the standing of both parties. Viscount Alice had put her knights on the frontlines, piercing through her opponents’ defences like a hot knife through butter. A large opening was made into their steel defence, only growing larger as the battle finally concluded with her victory. Tens of thousands of men were enslaved, and about a thousand cavalry had been lost as well. The Solam Family announced their withdrawal from the battle, while Niall sent an ambassador almost immediately to start peace talks.

Military law from ancient times dictated that any peace talks were determined by the outcome of the battle just prior. Marquess Niall ended up losing over a third of his territory in exchange for ten years of peace, giving Alice the land she needed to become an earl. The only thing left was the Sacred Alliance Emperor’s decree.

The battle between the rune knights resulted in both victory and losses, but the talk of the public was of course about the huge difference in the strength of both parties, which was the main reason for Alice’s victory. They would start guessing at the enigmatic runemaster under Alice from then; whoever it was, they far exceeded the famous Saint Klaus.

Alice may have been a hot topic in the southwest of the Sacred Alliance, but even more people on the continent were discussing Gaton. On the Day of Destiny, Gaton Archeron had chosen to enter the capital of the Sacred Alliance, the city of legends Faust!

The road to Faust has always been paved by metal and blood. Many tried to hinder the path of visitors, both openly and in the dark. Some just sent men to kill the new entrants directly.

This was all a rule the first emperor implemented, now a tradition of the Sacred Alliance. People without the ability to break through the defences and live through ambush after ambush had no right to step into the city of legends. It was also deemed legal for anyone to attack the territories of anyone entering Faust.

This was something that had been passed down for hundreds of years. Behind the glory of everyone who managed to enter Faust was a road filled with roses and bloodshed. People often only remembered the ones who succeeded, not those who disappeared along the way.

Gaton’s decision had evoked many discussions in the continent. The Archerons had obtained the power to challenge Faust long ago, but they had never had the unity to do it. As chief, Gaton could only represent himself. Moreover he was rising too quickly, which in the eyes of the older royals was not a good thing. They thought that he lacked foundation, a word which meant many things in contest. Secret and private planes, neverending wealth, mature rune knights, well-equipped elite troops, and talents that could be further improved. All this took time, a lot of it.

A lack of foundation why upstarts fell quickly, and in their eyes Gaton was without doubt a very stupid upstart.

The road to Faust was not a smooth one for Gaton Archeron, but he was not like the other families before him who brought all their troops to break through the defences. Instead he did the complete opposite. All his soldiers across various planes were stationed where they were to prevent invasions, and even his authority as family chief wasn’t made use of.

When Gaton Archeron set off on his journey, he only had 13 rune knights with him. It was thus shocking to the entire Sacred Alliance that he appeared before the entrance of Faust right on time at noon.

This was the first time any Archeron had stepped foot into Faust, and it also signified that from this day onwards, the Archerons would become one of the most influential families in the continent.

The Day of Destiny was special for Richard, as well. At 11 in the night he was called to meet Sharon, and his gut told him this meeting would be a special one…

As night fell upon the beautiful Floe Bay, the Deepblue was brightly lit. Waves of what looked like blue smoke flowed out of various parts of the tower, ascending its sides. From afar, it looked like a elegant and mysterious blue crystal tower stood high on the far end of Floe bay. The land around the Deepblue had thousands of bonfires lit and burning fiercely, making it seem like a starlit sky if one looked down from above. The people didn’t seem to feel the chilly spring as they gathered around the bonfires, singing, dancing, drinking, and admiring they once-a-year lighting of the Deepblue.

Most of these people lived on the outskirts, and the Deepblue was an asylum to them that served as a pillar of strength. As long as the Deepblue stood tall, their pride would never cease.

Yet on this night of celebration, the Deepblue itself was dead quiet. The grand mages had long since grown indifferent to the event, having seen bigger celebrations in the past. To them, the world of magic was already endless, there was no need to numb and lose oneself through these meaningless celebrations and festivals.

It was time for Richard to see Sharon. The huge magic puppets opened the heavy metal doors before Richard, revealing the spiral staircase that led up. Designed according to the liking of the higher-ups of the Deepblue, the doors were tall and simple, a deep red ochre with a natural veiny pattern. This primitive beauty reminded one of the origin; a savage wasteland of destruction and despair.

The stairs were fine and delicate, radiating light everywhere. At first look it seemed like nothing, but anyone who stared at the radiance would immediately feel dizzy and confused until they couldn’t make out what material they were made of. The statues on the handrails were all intoxicating, standing out even more under the dim light as mesmerising works of art. The height of the stairs made Richard dizzy, this was already the highest region of Deepblue, and any higher would mean Sharon’s personal area. Even the grand mages had no rights to enter that.

The legendary master wanted to see him in her personal region?

Richard calmed his mind down, slowly walking up a flight of stairs. An openwork door that was made of all sorts of shapes opened itself on its own to welcome him, revealing two dark elves behind it. Seeing the underground race that was legendary for its ferocity appear before him he almost instinctively cast a spell, but then he reminded himself that this was Sharon’s private territory and it was impossible for there to be enemies here. The dark elves were likely subordinates she’d raised in private.

The drow clearly knew Richard, and one of them made a gesture of invitation, “Mr. Richard, please, come with me.” She then led him on as the other one closed the door.

Watching the silent footsteps of the drow in front of him, fine beads of perspiration suddenly dotted Richard’s entire body. Naya had once taught him to observe other people’s movements; every step of this girl’s was as precise as the movements of a pendulum, no greater and no less than the width of her shoulders.

The girl brought Richard into a very vast space. If Sharon’s kilometer-long reception hall used for discussing business simulated an environment of mountains and rivers, then this huge space of nearly a hundred thousand square meters would be a copy of every dimension of the natural environment. There was lava, polar snow, coniferous forests, dry deserts, moist and muddy swamps… There was even a dragon’s nest here!

The different regions were separated by magical barriers, each not affecting the others. Every environment seemed alive, with magic barriers of various attributes flickering with shadows of purple, green, blue, and many other colours. The shadows zoomed across the landscape, their movement so quick one could barely recognise that they were strange creatures moving about that could only be seen in bestiaries.

They passed through this area, then followed a flight of steps up another level to another door. This one was made of stone, and except for its surface being polished smooth there was nothing particularly odd about it. The girl made a light stroke on the door and it opened silently, before she refused to take another step as she signaled Richard to enter by himself.

At the end of the long, deep passageway was a dream-like place. Numerous ice crystals were embedded on the walls here, and stars littered the dome-like sky. They emitted a blue radiance of varying brightness, painting everything in the room a fantastic blue. The floor was bright and clean like a mirror, made of an unknown material. It didn’t at all feel cool to the touch, instead being warm and comfortable to walk on. Just like a mirror it reflected the starry sky, making Richard feel like he was in the centre of a galaxy looking at an endless sea of stars.

In the distance was a wall of french windows, displaying a panoramic scene of the Everwinter Mountains under the night sky. The tall, magnificent mountain range was like an ancient titan, majestic and solemn as it lay there witnessing the changes of history without participating at all.

A graceful figure was stood in front of these 10-metre-tall windows, almost undetectable in this dream-like space. However, even if he hadn’t noticed her at the start, his gaze locked on to her the moment he did, unable to shift away.

This was the legendary mage Sharon, the conqueror of planes, the dragonslayer, and the demonkiller.

Such a place, such a time, and such a woman… It all combined together to make Richard feel like he was in a dreamland, but also like he’d entered another person’s memories. His body and mind experienced the vicissitudes of time, as if he’d been on an expedition for more than thousands of years in this plane.

Richard eventually suppressed his peculiar emotions, stepping forward to ask, “You were looking for me, Master?”

The legendary mage slowly turned around, staring at him as she said, “You’re already a man, Richard, and you’ve displayed your talents and abilities…” Her expression and aura were dar different from usual right now. She looked like a gentle, dignified woman, but also like a young lady who hadn’t yet lost her youth. She paused for a faint moment before asking, “Are you willing to continue on with my knowledge, advancing on the path of runecrafting?”

Richard’s heart jumped as he bowed, “Yes, I am.”

Sharon laughed as she replied gently, “You know, everything comes at a price. Until now, all of that price was paid by your father, Gaton Archeron. But I know that is not what you want, so I am offering you a chance; a chance for you to use yourself as the price in exchange for greater power. Do you accept?”

Richard didn’t answer immediately. Sharon had been casual, but he had to wonder what exactly he had that could compare to his father’s financial aid. Even if he hadn’t known originally, he now knew what ten years of Norland time in profit from a plane was; even if he sold his very life away he wouldn’t be able to beat that sum.

Richard was a smart boy, and his own intellect alongside what he’d learned in the Deepblue allowed him to recognise his own value clearly. Even ten of the current him wouldn’t be enough to nurture a runemaster, and as for the future… Even to attain Gaton’s current achievements he’d need both unrelenting effort and a modicum of luck. Just like Professor Fayr had said, luck had always been an important part of one’s strength, perhaps the most important part.

That was a cruel truth, but it was the truth nonetheless. Everyone had their value, and no matter how one insisted that they couldn’t be measured in gold others would decide for them. There would always be a huge difference between one’s perceived value of oneself and their true value, so he couldn’t make such a promise before he knew the extent of his own achievements in the future.

But Richard could tell from the words of Sharon that she was… biased.

This made him hesitate even more, because deep down he knew that he already owed her so much. He would put shame the values Elena taught him if he continued to desire more and not think about whether or not he could return all these favours. The haughtiness of Elena— unique to silvermoon elves— had been passed down to him. The only reason he hadn’t rejected outright was the flames burning deep down in his heart.

If he rejected Sharon’s help, Richard wasn’t sure if he could get enough resources elsewhere to become stronger and fulfil his mother’s last wish. His father was a huge shadow towering over him, and this shadow was still expanding infinitely. He’d never thought a choice could be so hard.

Sharon walked before Richard and carressed his face, making him raise his head. This was the first time they’d made contact, and he realised the legendary mage’s hand was so cold that it caused him to shiver. But Richard realised as they stood facing each other, that they were actually about the same height. Demons were far taller than humans, while the silvermoon elves were also a head taller on average. With the bloodlines of both as well as his childhood spent in the mountains, he was far taller than peers of his age. The breadfruit he ate for the first ten years of his life was actually an ancient elven prescription, while Sharon had spent a bomb on specially curated meals for him this past year. At this point he was the size of a normal youth.

The face of the legendary master looked so gentle at such a near distance, encouraging him to say what was on his mind.

“Master, I— I have nothing equivalent to your nurture. The future is still far away, who knows what would happen in three years’ time?”

Sharon let out a tender laugh, and even the magic radiance-filled room could not overpower the glistening of her eyes, “So you were worrying about that? Stubborn little thing, you’re just like your mother.”

Richard was really taken aback this time round, “You know Mother?”

“I saw her twice, and we could be counted as good friends. Elena was someone that deserved respect, and your personality is a copy of hers so I thought of her. But her and your father… Forget it, those were things in the past, let’s not talk about them. I just want to let you know that I can guess bits of what you’re thinking right now.” Her voice was calm and gentle, but it easily cracked through the walls of Richard’s fiercely-guarded heart. He could only lower his head, trying to prevent Sharon from seeing the tears rolling down his face.

“Elena is part of the reason I’m offering you a chance like this, but another part is me giving myself some hope, to try and achieve a dream I never thought possible. Some time earlier, I was in a hopeless despair, but your appearance has given me a glimmer of hope. So you don’t have to think about what you can give in return, giving your all is enough.”

That eliminated all of Richard’s hesitation, “I accept! As long as I live, I’ll dedicate my life—”

Sharon cut him off, covering his mouth as she laughed, “That’s unnecessary. The first two words were all I wanted to hear.

“Alright, Little Richard, it’s time for you to see a real magic rune.”

Sharon took a few step backs, light as water without any gestures or spells. It was like she lost all mass as she ascended into the sky, only stopping once she reached a metre of height. She spread her arms gracefully like a swan, and her magic robes as well as all her clothes turned into a million rays of light dancing around her.

Richard was shocked beyond words. Never in his life had he thought he would see such a dreamlike body without anything covering it, and his master’s body was more breathtaking than he’d thought.

By the time he recovered from his shock, blue lines were running all along Sharon’s body, like branches with a life of their own as they spread throughout her body before shining suddenly with a faint blue light.

Richard’s mind blanked out, filled only with this beautiful blue as his train of thought ground to a halt. He couldn’t think anymore; this beauty before him was beyond words— no, beyond everything.

Sharon’s voice came lightly, like it was something that was not of this world. “Did you see that? This is a rune unique to me, the Deepblue Aria. It isn’t complete yet, and I thought I wouldn’t be able to complete it in my lifetime, but now I’m willing to give myself some hope. Richard. If it’s possible in the future, complete it for me.”

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