The candles finally burnt through, and the room descended into darkness. After passing that storm on a scale she’d never experienced before, making her worries and dreams known, Erin began to feel waves of fatigue hitting her. Her eyelids grew heavy as lead, able to finally close without resistance.
The slumber was anything but peaceful, riddled with many strange dreams. Most of them were meaningless and grotesque images, but there was one dream that made her heart skip a beat. In it she owed Richard a great amount of money, and he came every night to collect the debt. Each night he’d ‘collect’ a number of times, but the debt continued to snowball…
When she opened her eyes once more, Erin was greeted by the sight of a familiar ceiling. The curtains that had been pulled and flattened vigorously the night before, not closed properly yet. Faint light shot down from the window, meaning it was noon in the world outside.
Startled, she quickly sat up. She’d gotten used to a packed schedule so she could alleviate her debts even slightly, and there had never been a day when she’d slept in. It was only once she sat up that she abruptly remembered— where was Richard?
The bed was void of anyone else, and on Richard’s side was a piece of paper that looked extremely familiar in style and format.
This was a receipt, a cheque for 31,600 gold coins signed by Richard himself. Even once she paid off her debts this amount would allow Erin to live extravagantly at the border for three years.
The huge sum it represented added great weight to this thin piece of paper. However, even as she held onto this card that would change her fate, Erin’s heart was filled with an empty desolation. Tears beaded down her face in large droplets, unable to be stopped.
A thin layer of clouds had gathered above Floe Bay, and the sunlight that occasionally passed through it gave the crystalline waves of the great sea a smatter of brightness. The surface may have thawed, but there were still some scattered icebergs that glimmered attractively under the sunshine.
The skies were still dim with the lack of sun, and the winds extremely cold. A gale caught the edges of Richard’s long robes, allowing the cold inside and causing the youth to shiver.
Richard was stood by the sea, a cliff only a few metres in front of him that went straight down into the water. The waves crashed into the rugged rocks to cause giant splashes on occasion, some of the surf actually reaching the sides of his feet even though the cliff was high and steep. One had to know Richard was stood about twenty metres away from the sea— the seemingly calm waters occasionally exploded forth with shocking might.
The ‘rock’ under his feet was a dark reef, many deep crevices within owing to the constant erosion of the waves and the sea breeze. Small white flowers grew at the sides of the rock, a common sight in Floe Bay. The cecilian had the tenacity to grow in any environment, present all year round even in the north where the temperature was below ten degrees for most of the year. The flowers lay frozen in ice at night, but once it melted slightly they would grow frail branches and leaves, bursting forth with life.
Richard wandered aimlessly by the sea, occasionally bending down to pick one of the flowers up. He’d gathered an entire bouquet in a short while; even if the flowers didn’t seem gorgeous, when bunched together their plain purity made them look beautiful. He then climbed up a little hill, arriving at an expansive view that allowed him to see the curve of the bay’s horizon. Behind him was the majestic Deepblue.
The sea breeze blew into his face, cold and wet. The great waves cried out in a low tone, but nobody could tell what they were saying.
Richard leant over and began to dig at the cold soil with his fingers, creating a tiny pit. He then placed the little bouquet of flowers inside and buried it gently. He suddenly felt much more relaxed when he stood back up. Facing the sea breeze, he took a deep breath of the chilly winds. Right now, he felt like even the strong fishy smell displayed the massive magnificence of Floe Bay…
He turned to leave, dark magic robes flying in the wind. Buried on that hill was the inexperience, purity, and once-beautiful dreams of a youth…
Back at the Deepblue, Richard returned to the places he was most familiar with. Once more he began his tight schedule that any onlookers would find stifling. Erin, Minnie, Blood Parrot, and Steven… if the leads were put together the truth of the matter would be out, and Richard believed that Sharon and the grand mages could see it if he could. Richard had no intentions of taking the initiative and asking how they dealt with the matter, prepared to forget everything and immerse himself in his exploration of magic.
At this point, the youth understood that every step he took forward was a huge blow to opponents like Steven and Minnie. The path to becoming a runemaster was tough, and only one person in the Deepblue would be allowed to walk through. This was a battle that nobody could afford to give up on.
In many situations, strength only had meaning when it was compared. The more powerful one was, the weaker their opponents would be in relation. Richard now understood that the rate of his improvement in the various domains of magic would cause other resolute people to be stifled and feel despair.
A blood-dyed conspiracy gradually disappeared into the dust of history, as if nothing had ever happened. Not even a trace of a rumour about the night had appeared in the Deepblue. No apprentice of Sharon’s had faced assassination, and the mage enforcers had never come out to maintain the peace. Nobody took notice of the marks from the flames in the depths of that alley, as if that was just more vandalism by a bored wanderer.
Of course, there had to be consequences. In fact, the consequences of this conspiracy were dire, but the information was only limited to a small number of related personnel. Information brokers were always attentive, and knew very well what could be sold and what would curse their lives. If the higher-ups of the Deepblue had yet to conclude an incident, then it did not exist. It would naturally not be sold.
From the night that contact was lost with Blood Parrot, Steven grew extremely uneasy. Richard’s daily routine was as precise as that of a machine, and all aspects of the trap had been arranged flawlessly. If the fish did not bite the bait, then a few other plans would immediately begin.
Things had begun extremely smoothly, and everything had gone according to plan, up till the scheduled time when Blood Parrot had sent a signal that the target had entered the assassination zone.
What came next was the part that Steven was most proud of in this plan. Blood Parrot had once objected, saying the plan was well thought out and made great use of the terrain, but even if it prevented anyone interfering in the assassination by accident it would need seven people to be executed. The target was a mere rank 3 rookie mage, while all of them were assassins above rank 10; just a single person could take care of him. Even without the high costs of using so many people, having so many hitmen sneaking into the Deepblue in a short period of time was also troublesome. However, in the end, Blood Parrot’s side still accepted this, because the one who handed out the money was boss.
Based on Blood Parrot’s style of killing in one strike and this plan that had been perceived to be excessively well thought out, three minutes was enough no matter how cautious the target was.
Three minutes was just the time to savour a bit of red wine, which was why Steven had poured himself a shallow glass of strong, aged ale. He sat by the window, admiring the night scenery of Floe Bay, swirling his wine and drinking slowly. It had to be said that no matter how terrible a reputation or how evil the grey dwarves were deemed to be, the wine they brewed was of great quality. Steven had been extremely patient and very confident. When dealing with an opponent like Richard, it was never excessive to be cautious. Blood Parrot was a mere assassin, so how could she know the principle of a lion using all its strength to catch even just a rabbit?
He soon saw the bottom of the glass of ale, but there was no news. He’d frowned slightly, but he continued to sit firm in place as Minnie poured him his second glass. That time, it was almost half-full.
The grey dwarves’ strong ale was stronger than humans’ brandy, and half a glass was enough to get a person with average tolerance drunk. That was why Steven did not drink too quickly. Blood Parrot was a prudent person and had to be carefully cleaning up the area, not leaving behind any traces. This was no small issue. If this were to be exposed, Steven had no idea of how to deal with it.
Using his family and father? That wasn’t quite possible. The legendary mage had already used her actions to prove that she was not afraid of shadow antimages, and Duke Solam had unexpectedly donated a huge amount of money to her. That alone spoke volumes about the results of the battle between legends.
However, if he succeeded and was not caught, the situation would completely change. Nobody would suspect a talented runemaster for the sake of the dead person. As for the Archerons, his own family would naturally deal with them. As he’d taken care of an up-and-coming star, the family assembly would probably give him great merit.
Blood Parrot had brought a total of six people. No matter how meticulous one was, using six to kill a rookie mage required not more than ten minutes. Ten minutes was the perfect time to slowly savour half a glass of strong alcohol.