Chapter 2 - City of Sin

Growing Up

Spring was a well-liked season. Humans could finally start the new year after the slow crawl of winter, no longer needing to bear with the freezing cold and being able to obtain food much easier. There was an increase in the variety of food as well, so spring was the most important season of the year. Be it for humans, dwarves, orcs, elves, or even ogres, supernatural creatures and carnivorous beasts, they had important events during spring.

Of course, the world was really complicated, and there would always be exceptions. For example, spring was mostly meaningless to those that lived underground. In the most extreme case, snow demons absolutely hated spring. On the other hand, however, a majority of the human race found the season delightful. When the warm, moist air flowed crossed the mountains and the sea with difficulty to reach the village of Rooseland, the villagers knew that spring had arrived.

Rooseland was located amidst a mountain range near the coast. It was a tiny speck amidst the enormous mountains that stretched for thousands of miles, ruled by Baron Tucker under the Sacred Alliance. It was almost three hundred kilometres from the Baron’s castle, so only during harvest season would the villagers see the Baron’s tax collectors come over. His leadership was otherwise negligible, only felt for this short time.

The Baron taxed lightly as well, only collecting the specialties of the area so that it didn’t have much impact on the daily lives of the villagers. Were the tax to increase in a poor harvest year, there would be dire consequences. It wasn’t all that bad living in the mountains. As long as you worked all year round, you would be able to survive.

The lands outside the village needed to be plowed and seeded in spring, and the food harvested in summer. Hunters would begin to enter the forest at this time as well. The magical beasts, having just woken from their hibernation, would be exceptionally dangerous and aggressive in their search for food, but there were some specialties in their bodies like precious medicinal ingredients or glands that could be turned into perfume. Their quality would be the highest in spring, so despite the casualties and injuries every year hunters always entered the mountains without fail. This made the Goddess of the Hunt the most worshipped of all the gods. Aside from the Eternal Dragon, there were as many gods and religions in Norland as there were stars in the sky.

Norland was a continent with abundant resources, ruled by divine powers under a strict hierarchy. Even a remote and peaceful village like Rooseland had quite the history, and despite being simple and sincere the villagers respected experts and disdained the weak. The small village, with only tens of households, followed its own implicit hierarchy.

The petite figure of a boy appeared outside the village, carrying a wicker basket filled with breadfruit almost as tall as he was. The winter reserves would normally be used up by spring, so before other sources of food could be obtained even this bland fruit was still an important source. It was easy to find as well, growing in the forest beside the village.

There were three other boys beside him, each one of them a head taller than the child. They had bows and pitchforks in hand, and daggers at their waists. Even if they were less than ten years of age, they were all carrying deer and rabbits on their backs, able to go hunt already. Of course they only targeted the docile animals, but it was no simple task to lay the traps to catch these animals. Be it of commoners or nobles, children of the village learned these things from their parents.

The leader of the trailing group suddenly shouted out, “Hey Richard, where’s your father? Hasn’t he taught you how to hunt? I was already in the mountains at your age, setting traps to catch rabbits by myself!”

A boy beside him followed up with a giggle, “A kid without a father can only pick fruits!”

The three older boys laughed as they dashed past Richard to enter the village. Their steps were light, making it hard to believe that each was carrying over ten kilograms of prey from the way they moved.

The little boy didn’t mind their mockery, however, continuing to carry the basket on his back as he entered the village. A middle-aged man sitting at the entrance saw the entire thing, calling him over and stuffing some dried magical beast meat into the boy’s hand. He caressed the boy’s head with affection, “Little Richard… Aren’t you mad about Beirut and his friends bullying you like this? I’ll teach them a lesson later, even if they’re just kids they shouldn’t be so careless.”

He hadn’t expected the child to shake his head in reply, “There’s no need, I’m not angry.”

“But…” The man used his large, black and calloused hand to scratch the back of his head, finding it a little hard to understand the boy. He thought the kid was scared of them, and couldn’t help but want to say something. After all, kids in the mountains could lack anything but courage.

However, the boy then smiled and continued to say, “Even if I don’t have a father, I have the best mom!”

The man just continued to scratch his head, shocked into a silly smile by the statement, “That’s right! That’s right!”

The little boy hummed as he continued to carry the large basket, skipping his way into the village. His slight gloominess had given way to joy, because his mother had to stay happy no matter what.

Little Richard had turned six this year, and he’d learned happiness.

The middle-aged man was the village blacksmith, Bobby. The boy’s mother was a magic acolyte named Elaine, having come alone to the village of Rooseland when pregnant with her son. She wasn’t exceptionally beautiful, but her personality was as gentle as water and her presence meant the village had a doctor for the first time. They didn’t need to run a dozen kilometres to the nearby town anymore even when they were only slightly hurt or sick. Sometimes they’d even chosen to bear with the discomfort because of the distance in the past.

Elaine had set up a small medicinal clinic beside the village. Even though she could only make the most basic of medicines, she’d already saved many villagers since she arrived. The village head and some elders thus decided to give her some land, officially making her a villager of Rooseland. With a majority of the villagers being hunters, there were three main centres of authority in the village now. One was Bobby the blacksmith, and another was the village head who was a retired military officer. The last was now Elaine, who along with the other two supported the future of the entire village.

Life in Rooseland was very peaceful and slow-moving, a year passing again in the blink of an eye.

Richard was a couple centimetres taller this spring, looking like kids that were eight to nine years of age. Traditionally he’d already have learned to set traps for rabbits and other small herbivores by now.

There were many small magical beasts in the forest near Rooseland, the large ones almost never seen. The place was a training ground for the children of the village, so the hunters didn’t hunt the smaller animals. They only patrolled the area every once in a while, eradicating any dangerous creatures or the rare larger magical beasts in the depths of the forest.

Still, Richard continued to carry a basket on his back up the mountain every few days. It wasn’t as beat up as it used to be, but it proved he was still plucking breadfruit that was everywhere on the mountain. Breadfruit wasn’t delicious, and the villagers much preferred the meat of magical beasts which was tasty and also gave them strength.

This was all at his mother’s behest. He also collected medicinal grasses, collecting a different type for each of the four seasons and having to deal with them using certain complicated processes. Taking the grass home was only half of the job, the rest only done once he’d gotten back.

What he didn’t understand was that even the breadfruit needed to be processed like the grasses. In fact it actually took more time than the grasses themselves. The other villagers didn’t do this, and just ate them directly after they picked up the ripened fruits that had dropped onto the ground at night. His mother instead had him pluck the fruits from the tree, with a fixed requirement for the colour and size of the fruit and even a special way to pluck it. However, when he ignored her instructions and thought there wouldn’t be any difference his mother had caught him, so he didn’t play any more tricks after being berated a few times. He picked the fruit seriously, processing them to perfection. Only in winter did his mother tell him that this was all to train his perseverance.

Little Richard had turned seven this year, and he'd learnt perseverance in his tasks. If he had to say what he'd disliked in all seven years of his life, it was that breadfruit was his daily dinner. It was a small nightmare that he'd never forget.

Rooseland remained the same as ever the next spring. Bobby was still single, and Elaine still had low business. The village head was as healthy as ever, being the first to charge forth in dealing with strong magical beasts. Richard, however, had finally learned to set traps. Still, Beirut and the rest had already started using short bows and following the hunters into the mountains. Already ten, they could call themselves youths. People in the town would even think they were about fifteen or sixteen with their well-built bodies.

Setting traps required a lot of experience. One needed watchful eyes, a pair of agile hands, and some luck. With the crude tools used in making the traps, there was a high possibility that traps made by an inexperienced hunter would injure him. Richard had talent, overcoming these problems for the village youths in the very first try. His success accrued praised from the adults of the village, and Bobby especially was jubilant since he thought of Richard as his own son. This was something everyone in the village knew; if Richard were willing to call him father, Bobby would probably agree to close his shop up.

In but a few days Richard was proficient in many types of traps. He started going deep into the forest, setting up large, complex traps. Large magical beasts appeared here on occasion, and with his luck a kamchatka wild boar appeared in his sights, setting the trap off head-on. The beast's front legs were captured securely amidst thorns, rattan rope, and iron nails, and even though it was really strong the trap was so meticulously made that its struggles were borne by the entirety of the trap. The boar was unable to break free even after a violent struggle.

Hiding nearby as he observed the boar's struggles, Richard's hands were covered in sweat. It was the first time he felt like the hunting knife in his hands wasn't reliable. An injured boar was extremely dangerous, and even though the wild boar in front of him was really small he himself was only a kid.

Just when Richard was certain that his prey couldn’t escape the trap, wanting to charge out, he felt a great force knocking him to the ground from behind him. He felt giddiness as blood filled his mouth and nose, hearing an arrow whistle and the boar shriek. He then heard cheers from his side, belonging to voices he knew.

Richard slowly climbed up to his feet, seeing Beirut and his party having appeared at some unknown time. One of them had pushed him aside, and Beirut was the one who’d shot the arrow. It had landed a fatal blow on its neck, a difficult task even on a captured beast as it had been struggling constantly.

“You stole my prey!” Richard suddenly realized what they were doing, and shouted in rage.

“Everyone here can prove that I shot the boar dead. How can you say I snatched the kill? Because of that trap of yours? A good hunter knows that this sort of trap can only be used to capture rabbits.” Beirut looked at Richard with disdain.

He was almost a head taller than Richard, and was well built. Being the son of the village head, he was much stronger than other kids his age, almost like an adult. The head frequently hunted powerful magical beasts from nearby, and the meat of those beasts greatly toughened the bodies of those who consumed it.

“Why are you here hunting wild boar then?” Richard’s counter question made Beirut tongue-tied. They looked down on Richard’s thin and frail body, but they couldn’t deny that he was really intelligent. They heard that he could write a lot of words, but that was no cause for respect. What was the use of words when they couldn’t help one hunt?

Richard’s question enraged Beirut. He made a rough downwards motion with his hand, signalling a youth at his side to move behind Richard and push him to the ground again.

Richard’s small face was flushed as he climbed back to his feet. He then gripped on his hunting knife tightly. His aura at that instant caused these youths to feel extremely cold, but Richard hesitated for a moment and Beirut took the chance to kick Richard down. The youths charged on him together, snatching the hunting knife away and assaulting him with kicks and punches. Beirut even stepped on Richard’s head, causing his head to be deeply buried into the soil!

The bodies of these mountain youths were filled with strength, and their blows were not light. However, Richard didn’t struggle, resist, or plead for mercy, just quietly bearing the assault even as Beirut hit harder and harder with his growing rage. The lack of response made Beirut feel like he was being mocked.

“Do you concede?” The youths began to hit harder and harder, but Richard just let them attack him like his body wasn’t his own. Beirut actually grew terrified after a short while, scared that he’d injured Richard severely. He’d definitely be beaten when he got back home, and while the village head was as hot-tempered as him Elaine had an outstanding image in the village.

The youths gradually stopped their assault. Richard then took a while as he slowly climbed up to his feet, and Beirut tossed a few harsh words his way before taking the wild boar and leaving. Seeing them disappear from view, he rested at a tree for a long time before struggling to stand up and head home.

When Elaine saw little Richard’s body covered completely in bruises at night, tears flowed out from her eyes. The boy instead consoled her, saying he was fine and that it only hurt a little. The boy looked at his mother after medicine was applied to his wounds and asked, “I still can’t fight back?”

“Mhm!” Elaine gritted her teeth and nodded with all her might.

“Alright, I won’t fight back. But I also won’t concede.”

Beirut sought trouble with Richard a couple times after that day, beating him again and again. The worst time left Richard unable to get back on his feet, but he still didn’t plead for mercy, or even groan. He always eventually got back up after they were tired of beating him, preparing to leave. He’d then stare at Beirut quietly, his calm demeanor causing the boy to feel an iciness in the depths of his heart. That gaze was the same gaze one levelled at a corpse.

Beirut started to have nightmares that year, suffering from them for a couple of days every time he beat Richard up. The difference in their physiques was only growing, but Richard still never resisted. Beirut didn’t understand why Richard never complained about him to his father, which would get him whipped a couple of times at the least. In fact, Richard hadn’t spoken to anyone in the village about being beaten.

The youths sought less and less trouble with Richard as time went on. One time, the boy smiled at them as blood dripped from the corner of his mouth, causing them to disperse in confusion. It was also the last time they beat him up.

When Richard was eight years old, he had learnt tenacity.