Chapter 8 - City of Sin

An Irresistible Woman

The army dispersed upon returning to Azan, returning to their homes to rest. Mordred entered Blackrose Castle with Richard in tow, settling him down in a guest room on the outskirts of the castle. Two young maids soon brought him brand new clothes and accessories, even filling the wooden bathtub with hot water. Marquess Gaton would see him at dinner, and by then the boy would have to bathe, change, and rest.

Richard was done with the bath quickly, leaving himself an hour to rest in bed after he was changed. Although he was still tired from the long, arduous journey, he couldn’t calm his excited brain in the slightest. The two maids had bathed him personally, and he didn’t even lift a finger before the process was complete. He’d tried to refuse, even struggled, but they’d easily repressed him with strength greater than that of the village chief. They appeared delicate, but he hadn’t been able to resist them at all, ending up obediently letting them clean him from head to toe. Even the roots of his hair and the crevices of his ears were scrubbed squeaky clean.

The guest room Richard was in wasn’t very expansive, but the ceiling was still more than five metres high. A tall, narrow window was located at the three metre mark, letting the daylight shine in on the unpolished obsidian walls. The rough walls were adorned with tapestries, swords, and shields, a deep scarlet that Richard couldn’t distinguish from dried blood. The room itself was still dark, blurring his sight even at midday without a lamp. He could feel a sinister aura radiating from every corner of the room as he lay in bed.

There was also the fire flowing in his veins: something the two maids had started. They’d been secretly giggling amongst themselves during the bath, but the smart boy had been aware of their ‘special’ intentions.

With both the gloomy cold and searing heat affecting him, Richard’s thoughts grew even more chaotic. Ever since he’d left Rooseland— nay, ever since the enlightenment ceremony that fateful night, everything had felt like a dream. The world right now just seemed so unreal.

He finally heard a knock on the door while he was lost in thought. It was time for dinner, and he was taken to a dining hall within the castle that was quite a distance from the guest room. As he followed the maid to the place, Richard’s only impression of the place was that it was large and dark. All the buildings were extremely tall, to the extent that even though the long, winding passageway was illuminated it couldn’t cast light on every single corner. It left silhouettes looming across the castle amidst the swaying shadows and pitch darkness that normal sight couldn’t pierce through.

At the centre of the castle was an outdoor area he’d passed before, with the vegetation casting flickering shadows that messed further with his vision and caused him to tense up involuntarily.

A faint odour seemed to be diffused throughout the castle, lingering behind and clinging onto him with every step he took. It made him feel repulsed and uncomfortable from the depths of his soul, a disgust that he couldn’t express in words.

The dining hall he was led to wasn’t the largest in Blackrose Castle, but its size was still befitting of even a duke. The hall was fifteen metres tall, extremely lofty and gloomy in spite of the torches lining the walls. Their light could hardly illuminate the mural on the domed roof.

The table was twenty metres long, and Richard sat upright at one end dressed in the attire of a young noble. He was facing his father across the table that could serve up to thirty people at once.

His father was an oddly charismatic man, with a smile on his face. His hair was combed back so neatly that not a single strand was loose, forming an indispensable part of his face alongside his short, thick mustache. Time had already left a noticeable mark on him, fine wrinkles creeping along the corners of his eyes. Those emerald orbs were clear and pure, but those who gazed upon them would feel like they were staring into an abyss. Sat there casually, he skillfully sliced the roasted lamb chops on his plate as he ate in quick bites, sipping on the red wine on occasion. His actions were strangely rhythmic; in fact, even the most fussy etiquette trainer wouldn’t be able to pick out any slip-ups in his actions. Of course, he was eating too quickly, and too much, but his elegance made it hard to notice the several kilograms of lamb vanishing in a few breaths.

Richard couldn’t deny that Gaton was very graceful and charming, even as he wanted to smash the silver plate in his hand into the man’s face. It would be a while before he learnt of the sheer number in that same camp.

But for now he had to bear with it; not for himself, but for his mother. He still didn’t understand the implications of his mother’s wish, but his unwavering determination, patience, and wisdom let him know that he’d understand its profound meaning in the near future.

Little Richard tried his best to sit with his back straight, and handled his food clumsily. The feast laid out in front of him was sumptuous; the delicacies by the huge kitchen of the Blackrose Castle were renowned, and the kitchen crew was made up of the best rotisseurs and patissiers in the entire peninsula. However, he didn’t at all know how to appreciate the food he had put in his mouth. He hadn’t received etiquette training, and one would be able to tell that he came from the countryside just by looking at the way he gripped his fork and knife. He had no clue about table manners.

However, Richard looked very handsome after his change of clothes, and his composed melancholy greatly resembled Gaton’s own. Quite a few amongst the streams of maids entering and leaving the room cast secret glances at the adolescent who’d grow into his manly charm in a couple of years.

After gracefully yet miraculously polishing off over 20 kilograms of lamb chops, Marquess Gaton finally wiped his mouth clean with a snow white napkin and smiled. His huge mouth revealed two rows of dazzling white teeth.

“You are Richard.”

Richard merely nodded, and didn’t say a word. He could tell that Gaton was using a narrative tone, and that sentence didn’t need to be answered.

Gaton smiled. “You’re quite fortunate to be an Archeron… You’re also quite unfortunate, for the very same reason.”

Richard lifted his head and met Gaton’s gaze. He said calmly, “My name is Richard.”

Gaton’s gaze was as clear as water, yet few could look at him in the eye. Yet, Richard had held his head up high and didn’t retreat even by the slightest bit.

Gaton laughed, before exclaiming, “You’re quite like your mother! But she never mentioned that your name was Richard Ragobar?” Although it was a question, he said it as though he was making a statement, just like before.

Little Richard hesitated for a while before speaking. “That’s right.” Now, he had more or less understood a little of his mother’s intentions.

“So, your surname is still Archeron, regardless of whether you acknowledge it or not.” Gaton said. At this point, he had already finished eating the main course. Ten maids stepped forward with a wave of his hands, clearing out the dishes he’d polished off like a stream. They replaced the silverware with brand new ones, and served seven dishes for dessert.

Gaton devoured the dessert once more with the same elegance and speed, speaking at the same time. “Allow me to digress.

“Even the most experienced nobleman would be unable to pick out a flaw in my posture, but those old-school nobles still think that I am part of the nouveau riche. Yet there’s this prominent figure we call Bloodthirsty Philip, someone whose favourite dish is raw demon meat that’s less than an hour old normally. The only exception he makes is to extend it to a day for rare breeds. On top of that, he likes to tear the meat apart with his own two hands before he eats. Still, the old people think he’s the true role model of all nobility. Do you know why?”

Richard shook his head. The world of nobles was an unknown to him, what little information he did have coming from Mordred on their trip. The knight clearly wasn’t a qualified tutor.

“Because this Philip is the great emperor of our Sacred Alliance. His Imperial Majesty wields formidable power and is very temperamental, so the older noble houses don’t wish to infuriate him. There’s benefits to having someone so big in their circles, and the hefty benefits are irresistible.”

Richard understood a little of the explanation, so he nodded.

“You are unfortunate to be an Archeron. You must grow strong and powerful, making the world your paradise, for without strength only hell awaits you in every corner! You won’t have to bother about whether you grew up in the mountains or were born in the most magnificent and majestic of castles. You won’t have to put on an act like I am now, those are all meaningless illusions! You only need to become formidable! You are an Archeron, and Archeron blood courses through your veins! As long as you carry this family name, people will look at you with hopes and expectations, placing you on a pedestal unlike any other! If you are only a tad bit stronger than the ordinary person, YOU WILL DISAPPOINT EVERYONE!”

Gaton’s voice grew louder as he spoke, and by the end of his speech his words were like thunderclaps resounding in Richard’s ears, so much so that the boy started to grow dizzy. He gripped tightly onto the cutlery in his hands as he blankly turned towards the man who continued to maintain impeccable poise despite his volume. He couldn’t care less about the piece of food that had rudely fallen from the tip of his fork and onto his plate.

Gaton suddenly restrained his thundering voice, and revealed that charming smile once more. “As long as you possess enough power, you can do anything you please, regardless of whether it has any meaning or no matter how absurd it is. Just like this.”

As he said that, Gaton called upon a maid and grabbed the clothing in front of her chest. He ripped her entire assembly apart with ferocity, instantly revealing her bare, naked body. The maid instinctively cried out in fear, but immediately choked back the shrieks that were about to follow. She obediently placed her hands on either side of her body, without the slightest intentions of covering up her exposed breasts and abdomen.

The butler, some male servants, and guards and knights were also present in the dining hall, leaning against the wall like statues. Mordred, who’d brought Richard over from the village, was amongst their ranks. They all seemed to come to life at that moment. Even though they remained in standard position, there was no doubt that their eyes were all over the maid’s body. She wasn’t considered extremely beautiful, but her youth gave her a body brimming with attraction.

Richard was dumbstruck, the scene almost too much for the ten-year-old to handle. The toughness he’d trained in since his youth took effect, however, as he held firmly onto the cutlery in his hands to ensure that it didn’t fall out of his grip.

The maid only dared to gather her clothes after Gaton waved his hands, but she didn’t dare cover her bodied. She curtseyed as she maintained normal posture, retreating from the hall while still facing her masters. She only dared to turn around after she reached the hallway, afraid that she’d meet with more misery if she ran away without courtesy.

Indeed, Gaton’s voice sounded from behind her. “I originally wanted to kill someone for you to see, Richard, but I was in a bad mood a while ago so I killed everyone I could get rid of. The other nobles had planted some moles in here! A pity I couldn’t control my temper when I found out.”

Richard turned pale. How could one speak of murder so easily, in such a frivolous tone? Yet, the expressions of everyone in the dining hall remained the same, from the servants to the knights. It was as though what their master just said was as common as him hunting for animals and serving them up with vegetables. It was then that Richard became vaguely aware of what exactly that faint odour permeating the castle was. It was the stench of blood, accumulated over months and years.

Just like he with the main course, Richard couldn’t appreciate the dessert even as he finished it. He tried his best to resist the churning in his stomach, a gruelling task to prevent the food he’d just eaten from rushing up his throat. The smell grew more distinct once he realised its origins, lingering at the tip of his nose.

However, Richard ate quite a bit. He was in puberty, and children who grew up in the mountains were used to eating more. Gaton was rather satisfied. “Eat more, so that you’ll grow quickly. Richard, did your mother have any wishes that she wanted you to fulfill?”

Richard’s expression changed. His silence was an affirmative, but he had no intentions of telling Gaton about them before they’d become reality.

Gaton didn’t press Richard any further, merely saying, “No matter what your mother’s wish is, achieving it is probably no easy feat. I will not assist you directly, nor grant you any power, but I will give you enough chances to grow stronger. As for how far you will go, it all depends on you. I hope that one day, you’ll be able to speak loudly to me.”

Richard nodded, but didn’t speak.

Gaton muttered to himself for a while, and said, “I’ll get you a teacher, and you’ll spend the next few years with her, learning. I hope you’ll give me a pleasant surprise the next time you return. Not just for me, but also for yourself, and for your mother.

“That’s all for tonight. Now go, go meet your brothers and sisters, it’ll be very… meaningful.”

Richard didn’t understand what Gaton meant until half an hour later. Still, it would take him a few more years to understand the deeper significance behind this truly profound experience.

He’d been on a high-backed chair in the meeting, as stiff as a statue. His gaze had been tilted up a little, fixed on a mural above the door.

The meeting had taken place in a small drawing room in the inner part of the castle, located in a different wing from the dining hall that was meant only for the family to use. The grand, lavish decorations here greatly contrasted the rest of the castle, warm and bright with light from illumination spells making it as bright as day inside. The numerous candles in the gorgeous holders added a perfect warmth to the room aside from the lighting as well.

Richard’s siblings were seated on couches to either side of him, two younger brothers and six sisters of various ages. He’d never imagined that he had so many half-siblings; when his cousins were added on, this number would probably grow.

His brothers were seated on his left, and his sisters on his right. He was right in the centre, bearing their scorching looks as they watched him attentively, like a rare demon just waiting to be dissected. Unlike the statue that was him, his siblings were much more unbridled and arrogant.

The two boys were much younger than Richard, but their gazes were filled with explicit curiosity, contempt and hostility; everything but affection. Their stares made the hair on Richard’s neck stand, which only happened when he could feel murderous intent. His six sisters were all of different ages: the eldest proved to be a young lady judging by her swelling bosom, and the youngest was likely less than five years old. The looks they gave him were much more complicated as well; there was inquisitiveness, but also hesitation as they scrutinized him. The two oldest were huddled together, discussing in low voices and glancing over at him from time to time as they occasionally erupted into unbridled laughter. Richard still couldn’t understand what it was, only that it was definitely of no concern to their brothers and younger sisters. It would take some time for him to realise that it was what women did to men they wanted to sleep with.

Richard didn’t speak a word. He didn’t know what to say at all, and his siblings didn’t seem intent on conversation either. They levelled their constant, piercing gazes at him, some filled with such pointed callousness that they threatened to stab a hole through him while others radiated a hatred like they wanted to devour him whole.

They only met for ten minutes, but to Richard it felt like an extremely long day had passed by the time the butler brought him out of the drawing room. He discovered the dress shirt he was wearing underneath his clothes was already drenched.

He later realised that the ten minutes in which he met his siblings was actually a sort of ceremony that represented their approval of him as part of the Archerons, and that he would be part of the family from now on. Such a ceremony also allowed the members of the Archeron Family to get to know each other, giving them opportunities to select each other in the future.

Richard departed Blackrose Castle the next noon, escorted by a small party of troops as he headed west. He hadn’t seen Gaton again since dinner, and his father hadn’t come out even when he left Azan. The meeting was simpler than he had imagined, and also much more cold and indifferent. He hadn’t had any expectations in the first place, but he still felt a vague sense of loss when he left. The number of siblings made him understand that he was just another child to his father.

However, Richard secretly clenched his fist so hard that his fingernails scraped his palm. Two scenes superimposed themselves in front of his eyes: one was of his numerous siblings, and the other was the raging flames that continued to burn that day. He suddenly felt that his mother died such an unjust death.

The team headed west, with Mordred still being Richard’s escort. The knight spoke much less this time, only adding a few sentences in on occasion for the twenty day journey. They passed through dark forests, crossed the Roman River that stretched across continents, trudged along the pale mountain ranges for another ten days, then passed through the territories of a dozen nobles and even a grand duchy before they finally arrived at their destination: the Deepblue, a magical tower in the territory of the legendary Grand Mage Sharon.

Space possessed power of its own. An immensely vast space will always exert some kind of actual pressure on people.

Standing in front of the Deepblue, Richard truly understood how vast a magical tower more than 500 meters tall could be. This wasn't just a standalone structure, but an entire complex of buildings extending from the Everwinter Mountains to one of the tributaries of Floe Bay. The central building was built in gothic style, its flying buttresses adorned with complicated and exquisite carvings. An eye-catching spire and pointed arches supported the door, while colourful clouds of elemental particles and arcane energy encircled the peak. The entire magical tower seemed to be floating up towards the sky.

Richard met Sharon quickly. This was a legendary mage, a guardian of the Sacred Alliance, and the instructor his father had chosen for him. Only face to face with the dragonslayer did he realise that she hadn’t even agreed to coach him; the journey was entirely his father’s wishful thinking.

Richard now stood in Sharon’s magical hall, which was a dreamlike space. The walls and the ground were made of some unknown, sparkling material that was a translucent navy blue. One would be able to peer into the depths of the hall with one glance, but it also felt as though they couldn’t look beyond the surface. Multicoloured optical disks whirled around the walls and the floor from time to time, moving freely like a bunch of fish frolicking around, as agile as though they were alive.

A throne carved out of an entire chunk of natural crystal stood atop a platform at the end of the hall, Sharon herself seated on it. Her feet were on the same level as Mordred’s chin, and over Richard’s head––she was literally lofty. But with her legendary status, no one would think she was lacking in manners whatsoever.

Sharon’s golden hair flowed freely, and her long regal dress with a plunging neckline revealed her bare shoulders and much of her snow white bosom. Her complexion was unbelievably fair, and one would have an urge to bite any part of her body if they saw it. Of course, one would choose to lay their teeth upon her full chest if they had a choice, and next would be her face. She seemed seventeen or eighteen at most, with a small face and quiet disposition. The grand mage was the definition of a classic beauty, seated atop the towering crystal throne like a goddess that had just descended.

Those who met her for the first time would totally be unable to associate such a young and beautiful woman with a legendary mage. But even the youngest mage would know that the Deepblue had been around for more than a century.

Her hands were criss-crossed upon her knee, and every single finger was adorned with a long fingernail guard forged from enchanted adamantine, each finger embedded with gems and designs of every colour. The designs on the guards were in fact formed from tiny spells inlaid in the myriad of gems that included rare stones only seen in legends. Those who knew value would be able to see that these guards were all impeccably powerful magical transmitters, or perhaps they were more like godly tools, and Sharon could actually cover all ten of her fingers in them! Her earrings, necklace, and even the string that she used to tie her hair were magic transmitting equipment similar to the fingernail guards!

The crystal throne was so dazzling that even Richard, a child who knew nothing about it, could tell how precious it was. However, this magic hall itself was worth a hundred times the throne. The crystals built into the walls and floors were actually used by mages for their staffs!

Standing in the magical hall, Richard suddenly felt his range of perception expand substantially, and traces of energy had started to enter his body as though they were flowing along some strange passageway. When the fine energy particles entered his body and were gradually absorbed, he suddenly heard the sound of glass shattering in his consciousness. It was as if some protective screen had been smashed into pieces at that very moment, allowing his perception that was once bound and restricted to dissipate completely.

In the next second, Richard came into contact with a magical ocean! Undercurrents ebbed and flowed in this water void of light, flowing along the seabed, ready to silently devour a gigantic whale at any moment. If Richard fell into this ocean he would instantly be engulfed without a single ripple, but he was standing on its surface at this very moment!

The momentary feeling of confusion immediately made Richard turn pale, and he began to tremble involuntarily. It all felt so real, and it was beyond his abilities to determine if it truly was.

Meanwhile, Mordred and Sharon were having a serious discussion about Richard’s tuition fees.

“It is my master’s wish that you put your heart and soul into guiding our young master, on account of old time’s sake.”

“Old time’s sake? Yeah, I recall now. That Marquess from your family still hasn’t paid me for many of my materials!”

“He has already paid the principal amount, hasn’t he?”

“How about the interest?”

Discussing numbers with a mage was not a wise move at all. Mordred immediately changed the topic, and threw out plan B. “Young master Richard has an exceedingly outstanding innate gift for magic.”

“Hmph, dozens of geniuses approach me to learn magic from me every year! I’ve even rejected three to four clerics.”

With a solemn face, Mordred dealt his trump card. “Our young master has the bloodline of the Archerons, and few adults can compare to the degree of purity of his blood. Well, at least no one else among this generation of Archerons is his match.”

The legendary mage was initially calm, but her eyes suddenly lit up so bright that the entire magical hall twinkled a little, as if she had seen an enormous dragon made of jewels. Although she spoke in a composed manner, anyone would be able to tell that she was just putting on an act. “Then what can I do?”

“You can trample on him any way you wish!” This didn’t sound like something that solemn and old-fashioned Mordred would say. As a matter of fact, these were the exact words of the Marquess, not him, but Mordred maintained a solemn expression even as he said those words. Or perhaps his appearance didn’t convey his emotions.

It was then that Sharon and Mordred both became aware of Richard’s peculiar behaviour.

Sharon looked as though she was in deep thought. “This little chap could actually establish a connection with my magical hall’s magic power reservoir, that isn’t an easy feat. Well… I guess he barely qualifies to learn from me,” she said slowly.

“Of course!” Mordred smiled, but he was thinking otherwise. This was a magical hall constructed entirely out of abyss crystals! The magical powers here were so strong that even a knight like himself whose only capability were his fighting abilities could detect it. What’s so hard about that? This excuse was really too far-fetched.

“However, that is not enough.” Sharon said, “The two planes that Gaton has with him are pretty good. I want 10 years of his profits from either one of them.”

“In plane time?”

“No, Norland time.”

The corner of Mordred’s mouth twitched a little, but he eventually nodded. This had already slightly exceeded the baseline that Gaton had set for him, but it was still narrowly acceptable. Norland wasn’t the sole plane in this world, but it was one of the top few. The timeflow here was slower than in most secondary planes, and ten years in Norland could be equivalent to centuries elsewhere. The bottom line that the marquess had initially set was already unimaginably generous. This was half of Gaton’s earnings that they were talking about, which would inevitably affect his plans for expansion in the future. One must know that Gaton’s next goal was to establish his presence in the capital city of the Empire: the legendary city, Faust. In order to establish one’s ground in such a place, no matter how abundant the resources prepared were, it would never be too much.

It was only then that Mordred recalled a title that the elites in the Alliance secretly circulated among themselves, one which was prefixed to Sharon’s name, ‘Bloodsucking Sharon, indeed…’

Her maxim was widely known as well, “I might not be the strongest, but I will definitely be the wealthiest.”

However, Sharon continued, “I’ll help little Gaton a bit during the next prayer to the Eternal Dragon.”

Mordred heaved a sigh of relief. This was unanimous with the baseline that Gaton had set. Yet he immediately felt a bizarre feeling rise in him. Although this was such a significant matter, both parties had quickly reached a deal at their baselines without probing each other numerous times and the push-and-pull process of haggling over prices.

What chemistry they had!

The most important task had already been successfully accomplished, and Mordred departed immediately. Right before he left, he couldn’t help but turn back and take a last glance at Richard, with a complex look in his gaze. When more than a century worth of aggregate profits from a certain plane were stacked together, regardless of what shape or form, anyone would look back at them like that.

Sharon waved gently. Eighteen mages all above level 12 immediately retreated without a noise, leaving her alone with the boy who was straining himself not to get overwhelmed by the magic power. Although his clothes were thoroughly drenched in sweat, Richard still braced himself and didn’t collapse. The tenacity that he had been training since his youth was finally revealing its effects.

The legendary mage sitting atop the crystal throne lightly tapped her fingers, and two of the fingernail guards collided with a “ding”. As the tides of the magic power reservoir hidden underground slowly came to rest, the rich and never-ending illusions in Richard’s mind also vanished. When the tides were all focused upon little Richard, even someone with no talent for magic could display an ‘extraordinary’ innate gift.

This was a tiny disguise that Mordred definitely saw through, and Sharon had no intention of covering it up. It wasn’t that she didn’t have more superior and obscure strategies and excuses, just that she was too lazy to use them. No matter how botched a reason was, it was still a reason. Even if Mordred saw through Sharon’s tricks, he didn’t dare to mention it. That was the crux of the matter.

Richard calmed his breathing and slowly raised his head to meet Sharon’s gaze. He was a little startled; although Sharon was high and mighty, her imposing loftiness was far more powerful and dangerous than the fiercest demon he had ever seen. This woman only looked about 17 or 18, and was so stunningly beautiful with her fair skin and a full chest that one would itch to sink their teeth into. She was going to be his teacher from now on?

“Your father has already sold the next few years of your life to me.” The legendary mage used the word ‘sold’ in a very ambiguous manner, knowing that Richard wouldn’t be able to understand it clearly since he didn’t have the listening skills of a level 7. Even if he heard it distinctly, he wouldn’t understand what it meant for now. While the great magic tutor and the murderous maniac were negotiating over the price, this young man was struggling to endure the tides of the magic power and prevent himself from being washed away, clueless about everything else that was happening.

“From today onwards, you will be my student. You must execute all my orders accurately without fail, regardless of what they are.” Sharon’s voice was stern and distant.

“Yes.” Richard replied. He had already learnt the responsibilities and obligations of an acolyte on the journey here.

Sharon tapped her fingernails together once more. Two powerful mages entered the place and took him away. He maintained his display of respect and humility as her acolyte, not raising his head to look at her because it would be impolite. That’s why he didn’t notice the strange looks being shot at him from the cold beauty, the look bears gave salmon as they salivated with greed.

It wasn’t easy for Sharon to wait until the entire hall cleared out. She might have just erupted into laughter involuntarily moments ago, an unconcealable delight on the legendary mage’s pretty little face as she unrolled an enchanted scroll in one swift motion. The scroll projected an image that formed a three-dimensional magic map, filled with innumerable magic symbols that indicated hundreds of planar coordinates.

Sharon was in high spirits as she scanned through the dozens of dragon signs on the map of the plane. Since she was in a good mood, she decided to pillage a few dragon nests to celebrate the day’s events.

“What should I do tonight? Rob a dragon, or rob a dragon, or rob a few dragons?!” The beautiful legendary mage was distressed in her own way.