“God?!” Zax exclaimed.
The word was not foreign to him; he even memorized it in Netherling. But the notion? The concept of a higher being? Both were exempted in today’s society of New Earth. After the great immigration, Nature was all that was and all there is.
“Is something wrong? Don’t you do obeisance at your land?” Mendor was aghast from Zax’s reaction.
From the content of their conversation and Medor’s criticism, Zax hastily understood that he unknowingly treaded upon a very sensitive, very important matter that relates to, possibly, the entirety of Ercas Mir and yet was absent from Earth’s Records!
On the one hand he thought that it would be for the best to lie and say that where he comes from his people worship God. The drawback was that, in a further discussion, his ignorance can expose the lie.
On the other hand he can say the truth, not reveal where he comes from and hope that Mendor will not be snoopy.
Of course, he could also leave without saying a word. But it would mean running away from a situation that who knows how many times will occur to him until he will get familiar with everything Ercas Mir.
As for saying that he is from New Earth… he was not forbidden to do so, however, he was not sure where it would place his foreigner’s status.
“We follow Nature’s rules”. Zax ended up saying. His tone was strict, as if to display the firmness in his doctrine, so even if it will sound unorthodox, no one will undermine it.
“Oh… so you are from the Blue Sea’s dominance, ‘Zenvir ice lands’…” A light of understanding shone in Mendor’s eyes and he nodded his head at ease.
‘Zenvir ice lands? Is that how they named the seventy three small islands of past Antarctica? For now I can say that I came from there and if need to, add that I don’t want to talk about it. In Glorious Ground I will seek information about Zenvir ice lands to avoid having inconsistencies in my story’.
“Apologies if I offended you”. Mendor suddenly said.
“I, too, said some irresponsible words”. So long as they end the subject he, Zax was willing to admit his mistake.
“Hahaha! Mendor, Zax, the banquet is about to begin. A table will be shortly arranged for us, so how about the three of us will sit together?” As the chief warrior of the village, that is, the village’s strongest expert, Garnet had the most in common with the respectable guests. And though he preferred to entertain Zax alone, since Mendor already decided to lead his mercenary band back, he demonstrated proper courtesy for both.
Joining Garnet and the rest of the elders, Zax was served a meat based feast. Large portions of a cow type Deformed Being was roasted and seasoned, creating a savory taste that was a first to Zax’s palate.
For beverages, the villagers brew their own ale. Mendor was not impressed with it and Zax never had a taste for liquor, which made Garnet and Leonard, who made a toast, feel slightly embarrassed and disenchanted.
Now that they were free to run around and celebrate, the village’s children were attracted to the butchered carcass of the Black Chrome Alligator.
The adults were not fond of letting kids get close to the awful Deformed Being, even if it was dead, but with the festive atmosphere no one wanted to limit their approach and ruin their fun after so long of being in constant fear from when the alligator was alive.
“Chief…” A young village warrior came running and in short breath. The expression on his face was grim and his forehead sweating. He whispered to Garnet’s ear.
Zax and Mendor took note of the young warrior’s nervous behavior and puckered their brows when they notice Garnet’s effort to keep a straight face.
The two tried to listen, however, when seeing the young warrior being so distressed, Garnet isolated the sound in the small space between them using his mist energy. Unless Mendor and Zax used their Soul Sense, neither could hear the young warrior.
“Head”, Garnet stood up.
Something in the way he looked at him washed away to joy from Leonard’s face. He, too, got up, after saying couple of words to the elders beside him.
“Mendor, Zax, will you please come along…” Garnet wanted to preserve his peaceful mien. He requested kindly of the two, yet was afraid that his voice will betray him and the pleading in his heart will be apparent.
“Sure”. Zax agreed, figuring that something not right.
Mendor also complied, seemingly already guessing what could happen. Before leaving, he discreetly signaled some meaningful gesture to his second, the other Core Master in his band, in a manner that was only caught by Zax.
The four followed the young warrior to a hut at the outskirt of the village.
Inside the hut a group of four individuals waited, three men and one old woman.
One of the men was laying on a bed, biting on a piece of leather, ghastly pale, drenched in sweat. He had several, non fatal, injuries on his upper chest, back and right arm. His left leg, however… There was a long and bone deep wound across his thigh that a never ending stream of blood flowed from.
The old woman was busy treating the thigh wound while the two other men helped her hold the injured and assist her.
Garnet and Leonard started speaking furiously. The man holding the injured said something to the young warrior who brought the four. The two traded places and the man stepped forward to narrate the situation.
The conversation was in Netherling and most of it Zax did not understand, more so due to the rapid narration than his limited vocabulary.
Garnet shouted, cursed.
Leonard turned to Mendor, said something and waited for a response, which Mendor appeared hesitant to give.
“Garnet, tell me what happened”. Zax asked.
The old woman scolded the four.
“Let’s talk outside”.
The left the hut, the young warrior back with them.
Garnet told something to the young warrior and he left running. Mendor and Leonard also left.
“My Virgil’s Pasture is in a big trouble, Zax”, Garnet clenched his fists. “The man injured is one of my warriors. He guarded the parameter of the village per my orders. At the time of the service he found a scout. At first he thought the scout as sent from one of the surrounding villages, to gather information about the alligator’s carcass. I informed him that he might encounter one or two…”
Garnet tried his very best to restrict his aura from bursting wildly in fear of interrupting the old woman inside the hut.
“He certainly did find a scout, but it was not a villager… Those greedy bastards! They actually invited the Gray Lords!” Garnet gritted his teeth without being too clear in his explanation.
“Who are the ‘Gray Lords’? Who are ‘Those’?” Zax continued to ask.
“The Gray Lords are a bandit group that area of control cover the encompassing forest and mountains. This group is managed by three old men that are Core Master experts; they recently made it known that the strongest among them broke through the Intermediate phase of the second Core Master level. As a jealous act, one or more of the greedy neighboring villages, most likely, informed the Gray Lords that we possess a Black Chrome Alligator corpse in hope of attaining a small share of it once they will arrive to claim it”.
‘Bandit group?’ Zax was taken aback. It sounded to him like a tale of a fictional movie.
Sure there was thievery and all sort of crime in Kingdom Earth, but a proclaimed bandit group? Too old fashion, simply too old fashion.
“So these Gray Lords are on their way to rob your village…”
“This time they should come for the carcass. Usually they take property and cattle and on occasions kill or kidnap. Money they don’t dare to take. We already pay taxes to Glorious Ground. If it will turn out that we don’t have enough to pay because someone extorting the village, that someone will be eliminated. The Gray Lords take money only from passersby”.
“So people like myself and probably Mendor’s mercenary band”. Zax laughed inwardly.
Will there be stupid enough Core Masters to mess with him? Maybe, depend on how much of his strength he will expose.
“The Gray Lords won’t give hard time to mercenary bands for small change, otherwise they will group together and start a war. A Black Chrome Alligator, even a juvenile, is definitely something the Gray Lords consider worth the trouble, so Mendor is also in tough position”.
After seconds of contemplating, Garnet turned to Zax, a bit reluctant to say the words. “Zax, the village spent a lot to hire Mendor mercenary band. Even if we will sell our part of the carcass in Glorious Ground we won’t have enough to pay back… But if you’ll give us time… Even though the alligator was severely weakened, you still killed it in one blow. Your cultivation must be at the second Core Master level… Please, the Gray Lords will not commit transgression so soon after God revoked its presence, it will take them an hour or so to come here. Please take the time to consider landing a hand to my village, you only need to take a stand, shall you reveal your cultivation, the Gray Lords will have to take a step back to reevaluate the worth of the of the alligator in comparison to offending a young and talented expert, especially if you will combine forces with Mendor. And if worse comes to worse, it is fine, we will forfeit the alligator and my village would still be forever in debt to you!”
The matter was urgent, Garnet could not afford the time convincing Zax slowly and had to put out everything at once.
‘So I made the impression of a second level Core Master. Mendor and Garnet did not notice that I used body’s strength to kill the alligator because my fist penetrated its flesh… I haven’t decided on how much strength to reveal, a second level Core Master should work fine for the time being, but I should act as if I specialize in soul attacks to cover the lack of use in mist energy’.
Garnet’s speculation helped Zax determine.
“I’ll consider your hospitality as payment”. He indifferently agreed.
Everything else aside, Zax’s moral nature did not permit him to let a group of deprave criminals bully and terrorize the weak. He had been in such situations himself as a child and more than once through the years. Now he already has the identity of a foreigner, a stranger, it would not be weird for him to act.
It took a moment for Garnet to confirm that he heard correctly. Heaving a deep sigh of relief he grabbed Zax’s hands and shook them. “Thank you, Zax, thank you, thank you!”
Garnet was the village’s chief warrior, a cultivator in the Mist Lord level. Many would recognize his strength, be they villagers or even residents of cities or members of clans. Nonethless, Garnet was well aware that the Mist Lord level would be the peak of his life as Martial cultivator, and that it is the mere “starting point” of true experts!
“Zax, the Gray Lords surpass us in both numbers and strength. It will be a rush decision to affront them before seeing how many will arrive and how far they are willing to go for the carcass. You are strong, but new to this land-”
“I have not shown all that I could do, Mendor. Against second level Core Master, even three, four or five, I still have confidence”.
The banquet was over early. No one was told why. Leonard ordered without allowing the young to protest regardless of how disappointed they were, and the village’s warriors made sure of that.
Now, those who were left outside were only the elders, the village warriors, Zax and Mendor and his men.
After sensing the belligerent ambiance Zax exuded, Mendor, who knew that he and his men have no time to escape with their loot and so agreed to meet the Gray Lords, tried to sway him from being haste.
“They are coming!” A scout sent by Mendor announced while running back.
The ground stared shaking; the bandits were many and not reserved at all in their scare tactics.
Curious, Zax released his Soul Sense to scrutinize the number of bandits and their overall number of Mist Lord and up experts.
“Oh…” Something caught Zax’s attention as a smile creeped on his face. ‘Interesting, interesting, killing them is surely worthwhile…’