Chapter 4: The Killing

The sergeant hesitated before leaving the tent, glancing back as if to check whether Rhodovus would follow—or determine whether he maintained a safe distance from Rhodovus.

Rhodovus bowed toward the astounded group present. “I’m sorry, but the exploration of magic calls. I shall return as soon as we finish our matters.” The rune mages nodded and politely smiled, figuring it was some quirk of the powerful mage.

Meeting the sergeant beneath the tree, Rhodovus held out his hand for the other to shake. The sergeant spat at it. “You know why I’m here, and you should know you can’t fool me. I’m well aware of the tricks of your Court.”

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“Oh, and how pray tell?”

The half-elf grimly grinned. “I’m sure you wouldn’t have noticed as one of the haughty elvish nobility, but my name’s Yuliser.”

“A fine elvish name,” Rhodovus murmured.

Yuliser grunted, “Yeah, well. My elvish mother died after seeing something she wasn’t supposed to. She was a servant in the Summer courts. Do you get where I’m going here?”

“I assume you want some of my noble riches?”

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Yuliser chuckled. “That too. I want all your non-paperrunic-related magic items. I’m not stupid enough to touch that crap or let you retrieve it. Think of it as compensation for what my family and I suffered through at the hands of your Courts. And, in case you were stupid enough to wonder, if you don’t do exactly what I say, I think we both know that certain rumors will spread about your little blood taboo. After our exchange, we’ll sign a little contract stating that you’ll never harm me.”

“And will this contract also stipulate that you can’t continue blackmailing me?”

“No.” Yuliser smiled at Rhodovus.

“What prevents you from meeting an untimely demise? Say, before this contract is signed?”

Yuliser grinned, all teeth. “Wow, I’m not sure if you’re actually this stupid or just crazy desperate. Besides questioning under Truth Contract…” He jerked his head back toward the milling crowd. Every once in a while, a curious head would poke their way, reminding Rhodovus that they were very much not alone.

Sighing, Rhodovus felt like all 50 years of his life were weighing on him. “Fine. Know you do make a difficult enemy today, Sergeant.”

“I think I can live with that if it gets me an extra hundred gold today. Don’t even bother pretending you don’t have it. I can tell paper made of elvish wood when I see it.”

Suddenly curious, Rhodovus asked, “Well, I suppose I would be willing if I viewed it as a gold payment for your silence and a bit of gained knowledge. Pray tell me how you could identify such magic?”

Yuliser sneered. “Oh, so Lord Thossolorian doesn’t know everything? There are some things beyond even his understanding?”

Yuliser straightened his back, a bit of pride creeping onto his face. “Well, I suppose I can teach this humbled arrogant an important lesson. There are always more talented people. Take myself. Not only am I a third level qi user at only twenty-five, but I also awakened a talent to see mana traces.”

“Are you sure whatever you saw was a blood-rune?”

“Do you think I’m stupid? Of course, that enhancement rune you drew for yourself was blood magic!”

“Impressive,” praised Rhodovus.

“Yeah, I don’t need your compliments; just your money.” Suddenly wary at Rhodovus’s nonchalance and remembering stories of the feared elvish courtesans, Yuliser reached for his sword.

Rhodovus lifted his hands. “Fine, fine. I’ll retrieve your gold. Be at ease, Sarg.”

“Shut it. I’m watching. Anything suspicious, and I’ll kill you. I have a sword—and you do not. Don’t think I won’t! I will swear under contract that you used blood magic.”

Raising an eyebrow, Rhodovus asked, “Why don’t you just kill me first?”

Hesitating, Yuliser frowned as if truly considering Rhodovus’s advice. “I’m not falling for your tricks. You’ll just claim you reacted in self-defense. Besides it not concerning you, we both know that I won’t get any of your stuff then before Command claims it. Stop wasting time.”

Slowly reaching into his bag of holding, Rhodovus’s fingers groped a few seconds for his gold coins before piling them onto the ground. Reaching his hand all the way up to his elbow, he sifted through the contents of the bag, trying to grab every last piece he could find. A droplet of sweat trickled down his neck.

The aristocratic elf prepared to take out his artifacts next. At this moment, Yuliser shouted, “Wait! Let me check the gold first. There’s a weird mana signature on it.”

He drew his sword, and Rhodovus retreated. “Aha! You thought this could fool me, Lordling? I just told you I can see through mana. Half of these are just Faerie coins!”

Rhodovus frowned. “You got me.”

Yuliser sighed. “Lordling, you’re far too tricky. Unbuckle the bag of holding and pass it to me. I’ll pay some less suspicious mage to deal with any tricks you’ve put on it.” Rhodovus slid it over.

Yuliser ordered, “Back away five steps! If you don’t want to have anyone else discover your little secret, you’d better stop trying anything else. Next time, I’ll be far less… accommodating.” Rhodovus complied to Yuliser’s demand.

Keeping an eye on the elvish noble, Yuliser bent down and picked up the gold coins. Simultaneously, Rhodovus clenched his hand, the movement sliding down the runepaper he’d stored in his sleeves while sifting through his bag of holding, and yelled, “Your mother was just an elvish whore.” Inwardly, Rhodovus scoffed. Only ignorant commoners would’ve been fooled by his quick street trick: anyone worth anything knew that you didn’t have to actually physically sift through a bag of holding for anything. Once you sent a mental thought into the artifact, it would automatically put the item in your hand. The vast amount of time Rhodovus had spent retrieving the gold had simply been for preparing his ploy.

Yuliser jerked at the sudden yell, knocking over the stack of gold and contacting the slip of paper hidden within. Coincidentally, Rhodovus had “prepared” it before their meeting right in front of Yuliser’s watching gaze. Yuliser stared at the paper in shock. “What is that! How did you hide it? It reeks of blood magic. No, the mana’s entering my body! What did you do, Elf!”

“It’s a bit fortuitous. I made a bet that your bloodline was too weak to see through layers of mana. Fae glamours do have their uses, I suppose.”

His eyes started frenziedly rolling as he yelled, “I’ll kill you. You damn elvish scum! Everyone will know that…”

Before the half-elf could yell his secret, Rhodovus charged forward, twisting at superhuman speed so the sergeant’s sword thrust missed his heart and pierced through his shoulder instead. He slid along the thin blade until almost half a foot of sword was stuck in his back. Coughing a bit of blood, he shook his hand, revealing an unfolded black paper, the very one with which he had threatened a captain earlier that morning.

He grunted and pressed the paper into Yuliser’s blood-soaked uniform, sending a jolt of mana through the rune lines in order to activate it. Staring in horror at the small black square, Yuliser scratched at it in panic. His fingers futilely scrambling at the rune, the man completely ignored the elvish lord impaled on his sword.

Paper made from Trapper Vine sap and Slimes. Quite useful, really, for controlled damage.

Rhodovus pushed the sergeant away, the sword sliding out of his body with a sickening squelch. Grunting, he pressed a napkin from his coat pocket against the blood spraying out of his side. Need to finish this quick. Any time, now.

There was a flash of light, and Yuliser’s ashes floated in the wind.

Relatively calm-headed for his current rate of losing blood, Rhodovus rationalized that he couldn’t use blood magic to suspiciously curb his bleeding. He stumbled to his bag of holding that Yuliser had dropped and ripped out two quick-fire runes from the booklet he retrieved. Placing them at the entry wounds, there was a brief flash of pain, heat, and light as the wounds cauterized. Despite the pain tolerance granted by his near rank five physical enhancements, he let out a shrill scream. I’m a mage, not some goddamn warrior! I’m not supposed to have to deal with this crap.

The first soldiers charged up the hill as he collapsed.

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