Editors: Templar, Jack Vanatis, Orang
Author’s notes: Looking at the clock, I have just spent 8 hours editing! This wasn’t even me cleaning up my writing, but going through edits from our grand editors! Anyway, here is the first of several chapters being posted!
Chapter 9: Falling Apart
After Regal finished his third day working for the Community Defense Team, his idea of implementing the new defensive layer around the city wall still hadn’t been completed. Only a small few of the city’s crafters have been helping with the production of the new section of the wall as the rest are busy preparing the new iron mine with cart rails and new supports, while they calculate the size of the vein.
Lord Solace owns the mine, as it was located by members of his community, but he has announced that all crafters with the ‘Mining’ skill are permitted to dig inside it at any time and can keep thirty percent of everything they mine. This is a small benefit to the crafters who uncovered the iron ore deposit, providing them with the means to collect ore without having to buy it from the community.
The lord also benefits from this, as he will either need to start hiring miners or producing ‘Mining’ skill books so the community can start to train themselves. This produces a flow of iron ore toward the community even before any new miners arrive, but the long term benefit for the crafters outweighs that by a great deal. The lord will also send a small group of guards to protect the mine from mutant beasts and any wandering hunters, but Regal suspects they are also to make sure the crafters don’t steal anything.
Returning from the newly established iron mine, Regal’s face is covered by a thin film of dirt. Due to the benefits of locating the mine and the lax guards during this initial period, he already has a large quantity of low quality iron ore in his inventory. The other crafters are also the same, stockpiling as much iron ore as possible before the lord fully supervises the mine with his guards.
The crafters took seventy percent of everything they mined and only left thirty percent for the community. Even if the lord was aware of the crafters taking such an amount, he will most likely turn a blind eye over the matter. In the end, three days of non-stop mining by all the crafters wouldn’t even take a fraction of a percent of the total iron ore located within the vein.
Regal himself has a little over nine hundred pieces of iron ore. He feels a little dejected over not being able to mine any medium quality ores as they were too far away from the core of the iron ore vein, but he plans in refining half of them to create iron of better quality.
Through the use of the ‘Compounding: Beginner’ Tier 4 Divine Art ‘Enhance’, he can use a hundred of any material to create a single item of a higher grade. A hundred low quality iron ores will create a single medium quality iron ore, while a hundred medium quality iron ores will result in one of a high quality, which can also repeat the same process to create one top quality. Regal doesn’t plan on using low quality ores to even try to create a top quality crafting material from low quality items as the expenditure is far too enormous, but it is possible.
After scrubbing all the dirt off himself, Regal enters the bottom floor dining room where Aqua has prepared dinner for everyone. This time she hasn’t experimented with any unusual ingredients so her cooking skill is truly shown.
Despite the pleasant food in front of him, Regal can’t help but notice a faint tension in the air. Nobody is talking or making eye contact with one another, giving Regal a sense of foreboding. Unsure as to what the problem is, he quietly passes it off as overthinking too much and enjoys his dinner.
“How was your trip to the dungeon?” Regal asks, finally breaking the silence.
Kilde is the first to respond. “We have all focused on improving ourselves to help the team fight better. We also reached level 15 and entered the second floor of the Lost Water Cavern dungeon.”
Piora, seemingly discontent with his answer, speaks up, “Not just level 15, but nearly at level 16 as well! My tactics when fighting by myself have increased and I judge I can defeat a level 19 or 20 mutant beast all by myself if I use up most of my mana.”
Regal is pleasantly surprised at all the progress they’ve made during the past three days and smiles warmly toward everyone. He can already tell that the squad as a whole has improved on a significant level.
“How was working with the other crafters?” Piora asks curiously, inclining forward with anticipation. “You were covered in dirt when you came back so it seems you must have been making lots of things!”
“Haha, yes, I have been quite busy. I don’t think it is as you are imagining though. We happened to locate an iron mine near the city. We spent a little over two days relentlessly mining iron ore before the lord came and started managing it.”
Regal glances over at Aqua who has been silent this entire time, but she awkwardly turns her head to avoid making eye contact with him. Regal is concerned that she may still be upset from three days ago before he left, but he places his trust that Piora has already spoken with her and doesn’t forcefully bring up the subject with Aqua.
After dinner, everyone is tired from a long day so they decide to go to sleep early, ensuring that they have enough energy for tomorrow. There is four more days before Regal must return to work with the other crafters, so he starts planning what he wants to do during that time.
Veronica follows Regal to his bedroom just like any other day, but as soon as they enter Veronica stays standing by the door with an expression that seems both concerned and sad at the same time. Surprised by the sudden look on Veronica, Regal is at a loss of words as to what is going on or what to do. He understands that as a Soulless, Veronica must be experiencing a great turmoil to cause such an expression.
“Veronica…” Regal faintly says, moving closer to take her in his embrace.
Just as Regal gets close to her, Veronica takes a short step back, out of his reach, before finally saying, “Regal, I have had time to think about it and understand the differences to me.”
“What do you mean? What differences?” Regal’s chest begins beating frantically in anxiety, his former sense of foreboding striking him again like an iron hammer.
“I don’t want our team to have a falling out because of our personal relationships, so this is best talked about. I wasn’t aware of the different kinds of love there are, and mistook them for what they are. Regal, I love you, just like I have always said.”
Regal, feeling what is coming, feels like his heart completely stops beating and his blood all turns to ice.
“But, I love you like a brother, not as an intimate partner. I must apologize to you for confusing the two and allowing a relationship to start which should not have, I hope you can understand… I, I’ll be returning to my original room.”
Just like that, without any chance for Regal to say anything back, Veronica suddenly flees from the room in a fluster. Even her heart beat, which is normally constantly steady no matter the situation, began to act erratically in the end and gave her a sense of fear. She ran from Regal because this feeling was overwhelming her, creating a situation where she did not know how to respond.
Regal, despite having a better understanding of emotions, sat down in confusion and anguish.
“Why?” he whispered to himself under his breath, “I don’t understand. Just as everything was going so well…”
Regal mulled to himself late into the night, trying to grasp some answers to the cause of the recent events. However, he only ended up falling asleep with more questions than he did before.
The following morning, Regal awakes with a pit in his stomach, still in disbelief over the events of last night. He wearily gets out of bed and goes downstairs to find that everyone else is already up.
The entire squad is already aware of Veronica deciding to end her relationship with Regal, either because of eavesdropping or Veronica telling Piora about it and her telling the others. Aqua tries to have an awkward look on her face, but a hint of a smile twitches at the corner of her mouth. Piora notices Aqua’s secret delight and frowns at the latter.
“Today is everyone’s free day,” Regal says, trying to brush aside the tension he is feeling. “We are all exhausted. You have all spent the last few days in the dungeon, while I have been very busy working at the new iron ore mine. How about you all spend the day going around the shops or exploring the area around the town? I trust you have all started saving up some money. Just remember the traders should be coming sooner or later so don’t spend too much.”
“Regal, what about you?” Veronica asks in a tone that seems more unemotional than usual.
“I’m going to spend today crafting. I’ll also go to the market street today to purchase some ingredients, but I will go alone.”
“What do you mean you will go alone!? Our squad is currently very shaky right now and you want to run away?!” Piora’s anger flares and she shouts at Regal, slapping down on the table and causing everyone to jump.
“Piora, I just need to be by myself for a while.”
“So you aren’t letting our squad fall apart because of your personal feelings?”
“No, that’s not it. And we’re not-”
“Then what is it?!”
“I just need a little time to myself.”
“You’re our leader, aren’t you?”
“Of course I am.”
“Then act like one!”
Piora snorts at Regal and storms off, leaving the latter to feel even worse than he previously did. Regal was already depressed over Veronica leaving him, and now it seems like even his squad is falling apart.
Piora only had the best intentions for Regal, and is the only one who knows that there is something truly wrong with this community. She just doesn’t have any proof and doesn’t know how to bring it up with Regal.
The morning assembly of the squad members finishes in a poor state as Regal hurries out of the house after Piora. He catches the young woman just outside of the house and hurriedly asks, “Piora, what is going on? Getting angry at me isn’t helping anyone.”
“Hmph, what do you know?!” Piora angrily shouts at him, her eyes trying to tell him to back away until her temper settles.
“I know that I don’t want this squad to continue to argue amongst ourselves. You aren’t helping right now.”
“You want to fix this squad, then we should all leave this community immediately. Those guards are the whole cause of this mess, I know it!”
“Piora, how could you think that? Jerule and the others have been nothing but kind to us. They’ve even put aside their time to help train us so we are all stronger as a squad.”
“I knew you would say that! If you don’t stay away from them, there is going to be nothing but more trouble!”
“Stop this! I understand you’re frustrated, so am I. But this is our problem, don’t go around blaming others!”
“I can’t believe you! You may just watch our squad falls apart in front of you, but I won’t!”
Piora shouts loud enough that anyone nearby would have heard before storming off in a rage. Regal looks on dumbfounded at her retreating back, at a loss as to what just happened.
‘Does she mean she’s leaving the squad? Am I such a bad leader? No, that can’t be it. What truly is going on?’ Regal feels more confused and lost than ever as everything around him seems to be spiralling out of his control.
Regal doesn’t pursue Piora any further and decides to let her calm down before talking again. He still has his Transmission Plate, so he can contact her later no matter where she goes goes to cool her anger.
Regalcalls over the Firestone Lizard, Hades, shortly after through his mental connection and departs for the market street. He brought Hades along with him because he plans use this time as an opportunity to learn more about the variant mutant beast and its abilities, much like how the Mutant Stone Beasts can sense the mineral density within the ground like an earthen sonar.
Regal focuses on the connection with Hades as he walks and tries to connect his senses with the beasts, but feels a strong resistance from the mutant beast itself.
“Hmm, so you can still resist me?” Regal asks while transmitting the same message to the beast through his mind so it understands.
Hades looks at Regal in a panic and sends mixture of messages of confusion, submission and questioning. Regal understands that perhaps he was overthinking things and calmly starts attempting to fuse their senses again. To maintain closeness with the mutant beast and ensure he doesn’t stop walking in the middle of one of the streets, Regal mounts the Firestone Lizard and rides it while working on fusing their senses.
Halfway to the market street, Regal finally makes some progress, Hades slowly becoming an extension of himself. Regal finds that the beast doesn’t see through the usual spectrum of color that he usually would, creating a lot of confusion as he looks through the mutant beast’s eyes. Everything in the world is formed from fiery reds and yellows. Other Immortalis glow like beacons in his eyes and all look the same, but Hades can somehow identify specific individuals due to the slightly different color of the people.
Regal begins to gain an understanding that what he is seeing is heat, which is why he can even see some people inside of their homes. Of course, he can’t make out what they look like or what they are doing, but their bodies from ghostly shadows that can be seen through the walls.
Regal probes Hades to see if he has any other abilities, but can’t seem to find anything notable so decides to put it aside for now.
Regal finally arrives at the market street and finds it busy with all sorts of residents from Greyhorn Community. He enquires at a nearby store what is happening, and apparently the market is always busy this time of the week.
Regal’s current funds are rather low, as he focused on acquiring crafting materials rather than coin, so he plans to sell some items to get more materials. Any crafted item is usually worth more than the ingredients used, which is how crafters who don’t venture into dungeons or travel the world make most of their money.
He can’t sell the iron ores, as low quality raw materials are too cheap. If he sold a hundred pieces to a blacksmith, perhaps he would only get around ten silver coins, while a trader would offer probably half of that.
Regal decides to sell the potions he creating through ‘Compounding: Beginner’ several days ago. He sells the ‘General Antidotes’, ‘Basic Paralysis Antidotes’, and ‘Stone Skin Elixirs’ for a considerable price of just over fifty silver coins. This includes the potions that he took back from the others after they finished their first trip to the dungeon, he could create more easily.
Now with more coin, Regal traverses the various stores and purchases various ingredients for compounding. His current goal is to slowly earn enough to purchase a furnace for his house, but that will take weeks at least, unless he can get lucky in the Lost Water Caverns dungeon and get a skill book or two.
Just as Regal is about to leave the market street, an alarming translucent message appears before him.
Piora has left the squad.
Piora stormed off away from Regal full of rage, which even she knew was unreasonable. She couldn’t control herself so she decided to wait until she calmed down before returning. Piora had also attempted to warn Regal of her current misgivings toward the guards, especially Jerule, but failed to be able to express herself which only frustrated her more.
After walking through the town for a while, she found herself near the south gate. She had thought to leave and kill some nearby mutant beasts, which always helps calm her, but before she could, several Greyhorn Guards block her way.
Piora turns her head to look around and finds that there are no residents of the community here, only the guards. Feeling suspicious as to what is going on, she backs up away from the guards to create some distance. Before she can get too far however, Greyhorn Guard Leader Bryn walks out from behind a building and calmly smiles at her.
“What do you want?” Piora asks Bryn, the latter’s gaze giving her a piercing chill.
“Miss Piora, there was recently an incident inside of town that we are enquiring about. Will you be so kind to follow us back to the barracks so we can ask some questions?”
“I would rather not.”
Piora knows how much stronger than her Bryn should be so she has no intention of fighting him, only escaping. It is at this moment that Bryn’s gaze further hardens and he unleashes the Tier 5 Divine Art ‘Sleeping Palm’ with only a small amount of strength. Piora only suffers a small amount of damage, but the martial skill still successfully robs Piora of her consciousness and causes her to collapse on the spot.
“Lock her in the prison,” Bryn orders sternly. “With this, Jerule’s previous errors should be resolved.”
Two guards pick up Piora and carry her away. Bryn follows behind as they make their way toward the center of the community where Lord Solace’s mansion is. They eventually reach the lord’s residence, upon which they enter through a side door and take Piora to a dark, underground prison.
It is half an hour after being locked up in a small cell that Piora finally regains consciousness. She lifts her head up only to see Bryn standing outside the cell, his gaze seeming to pierce right through her.
“Where am I?” Piora nervously asks, her usual temper nowhere to be found.
“The Greyhorn Community Prison. You’re currently our one and only inmate right now, you should feel proud.”
“You can’t keep me in here, I will get out.”
“Oh, I don’t think so. This is a genuine prison. You will stay here for ten or twenty years, and maybe then I will consider letting you out.”
Piora’s face turns pale as Bryn leaves, the closing of the door outside shuts out what little light was entering the prison and leaves her locked in darkness. Piora is frightened and can’t even see her own hands in front of her. She screams from her cell for help, but there is no response to her calls.
Piora knows she can’t escape on her own, and a frightening helplessness overwhelms her. Every grand city has multiple prisons for those who break the law, and communities have the territorial right to build one as well. A prison has several effects, the main ones being the person inside can’t break the cell they are locked in, all communication methods to the outside world are cut off, and even if the prisoner dies, they automatically revive in their cell instead of the rebirth pond.
The fact that Greyhorn Townsend has a prison is a tightly kept secret among only a few guards and Lord Solace. Creating a prison consumes a huge amount of resources and time, and only a community beyond a certain size is permitted by the world to do so. Most smaller communities however don’t have prisons, which is why nobody would suspect Greyhorn Townsend would have one.
It is only now that Piora realizes just how sinister and dangerous the people of this community truly are.
Regal is astonished and worried as soon as the message notifying him of Piora leaving the squad appears before him. What he doesn’t know, is that the removal of her from the squad is actually an effect of her being locked away in the prison.
When they are in the same squad, he can sense the direction and general distance of the other members regardless as to where they are, but now that she has left he has no idea where she is. The last time he checked where she was, Piora was located somewhere near the south gate. Regal didn’t pay too much attention to it at first, but now his worries that she has permanently left begin to increase.
He tries to contact her through the Transmission Plate, but only silence answers him.
Regal hurries to the south gate in hopes of catching her before she goes too far. She is a valuable member of his squad and he doesn’t want to see her leave. If there is something he can improve on as being a leader to prevent this, he is prepared to go to any length to fulfil it.
Riding atop Hades, Regal’s speed is much greater than Piora’s would be on foot, so he still has hope of catching up to her. As soon as he reaches the south gate, Regal finds Jerule stationed there keeping watch of the area outside the city. He is talking into his Transmission Plate with scouts patrolling the area to make sure there are no hostile communities, bandits, or mutant beast swarms approaching.
“Jerule!” Regal calls out from below the gate when he arrives.
“Oh, Regal, give me a minute and I will be right down.”
Jerule swiftly descends from the top of the gate and stands in front of Regal before asking, “Regal, what’s the matter? You seem quite anxious.”
“I’m looking for Piora, she should have been here not too long ago, but she suddenly left the squad so I am worried…”
Regal trails off his speech, weakly inclining that she may have left his squad permanently.
“Hmm, I’ve only just arrived from the east gate, let me ask a few of the guards if they have seen her.”
Jerule quickly shares some words with a few guards also stationed at the south gate before nodding his head curtly and returning to Regal.
“I asked around, there was indeed a young woman with her description seen here not too long ago. Apparently, she rushed out of the gate in a hurry and headed south. Has something happened?”
“We had an argument and she stormed off. I thought she just needed to calm down, but I now think it may have been more than that. Can you please help me? I need to find her before she goes too far.”
Jerule has a complicated expression before he solemnly responds, “I’m sorry, Regal. We have recently sighted a neighboring community taking up arms and starting to head toward us. They may be a few days away, but all our scouts are busy monitoring them and seeing if we can impede their march before they get here. We have lots of preparation to undergo.”
“W-we’re going to be under attack?!”
“Shh, I don’t want you to cause a panic among the residents. They risk losing a lot if the community falls after all. Our guard will be enough to repel them based off our initial reports. There is nothing for you to be concerned about.”
“I see. Thank you Jerule.”
“No need to thank me, but you should be chasing after your squad member shouldn’t you?”
“Y-yes, of course!”
Regal hastily bids farewell and charges out of the community from the south gate, trying to catch up with Piora before she goes too far.
Once Regal is far away, Jerule looks in his direction with a crafty look before mumbling under his breath, “I have much to learn from Bryn, he truly is a master.”