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    Another chapter today! See you all on Wednesday 🙂

    Chapter 111: Slave Market

    Unable to wait any longer, Beric entered despite being told to stand guard outside. He still seemed intent on following orders, dragging the unconscious boss by the ankle.

    He blinked at the sight of Hasha’s mangled corpse.

    “What happened here?”

    “For future considerations, Hasha wanted the body disposed of.”

    “Really? The guy had more guts than I thought.”

    Boom!

    Beric carelessly tossed the bandit’s body aside and approached Hasha. The sorrow in a dog’s eyes—such a complex emotion that no one could truly understand. Beric snorted, wiping away the dripping blood.

    “Look on the bright side. A few more times like this and you’ll live a long life.”

    —If you call that consolation…

    Hasha’s annoyed expression was evident, but it seemed to provide some solace from his grief. He regained his composure, pawing at his eyes and snout.

    —You didn’t kill the leader, did you?

    “Master ordered to keep him alive, so I just crippled him to prevent escape. But this place is bigger than I thought?”

    Beric opened doors, looking around. Ian did the same, not just to check the stolen goods, but also to see if there were any kidnapped victims.

    Click!

    “Look at this!”

    “Seems like a storage for their loot.”

    “Wow, these guys were loaded!”

    “Indeed. They were more skilled than I thought.”

    Gold coins, various jewels, and treasures piled up, evidencing their crimes. Ian clicked his tongue lightly and entered. It seemed there was more gold scattered around than expected, given that the surrounding areas were all small towns.

    While rummaging through, Beric called Ian over, holding something peculiar.

    “Ian, I found a strange sword.”

    The blade was pitch black, almost as if it had been scorched by fire, devoid of any sheen. It seemed like ash could flake off it. Beric ran his fingers along the edge of the blade, surprised, and muttered,

    “It’s not just something on it.”

    “This is an unusual sword.”

    “Ian, you don’t know what this is either?”

    “…How would I know everything? It might be a unique mark of the craftsman, or perhaps it’s purely decorative. Not all swords are made solely for cutting. Oh, and sometimes swords mixed with magic stones can also have a color.”

    Ian had never closely examined a swordsman’s sword. During his audience with the Emperor, for dignity and safety reasons, everyone had to lay down their swords. He had only ever witnessed the power of magic swordsmen from afar in the training grounds during sparring sessions.

    “You know quite a bit after all.”

    Beric chuckled and carelessly swung the sword. It was a habitual motion, but the sword felt surprisingly light and agile, fitting perfectly to the length of his arm, which was astonishingly comfortable.

    “Eh?”

    “What’s wrong?”

    Swoosh!

    He liked the black trail the sword left behind with each swing, like an afterimage. The blade was on the duller side, but that was something a blacksmith could easily sharpen.

    “Ian! I want to keep this!”

    “This sword?”

    “Yeah, yeah. Is that okay?”

    He was jabbing and swinging it around, causing a commotion. Ian paused to consider, looking at the sword Beric was holding. It was in a rough state, with the blade’s edge completely worn down. The leather handle, patched with cloth, was a mess with someone’s blood.

    “As a guard, you should have a sword you like. We’ll settle the price when we get back to the village.”

    “Yess! How much?”

    “I don’t know. It’ll come out of your meal expenses, so just be aware of that.”

    “Wait! You’re taking it out of my meals?”

    The items plundered by the bandits, including this sword, were to be returned to Karenna and other small towns to find their original owners or be allocated to the city’s budget. Beric, shocked by the notion of having his meals reduced, kept glancing between Ian and the sword.

    “Oh no…”

    But he couldn’t bring himself to give up the sword, indicating how much he liked it.

    How easily his thoughts were revealed. Ian smiled wryly and moved to inspect the rest of the loot, with Beric, unusually serious, following close behind, sighing deeply.

    ‘Weapon wielders occasionally feel a fate-like connection at first meeting. By his reaction, it seems he’s quite taken with it.’

    “Do you like it that much?”

    “I like that it won’t show bloodstains.”

    “To obtain what you desire, a price must be paid. Think of it as training for now.”

    Ian didn’t actually plan to restrict his meals, but Beric seemed to need various tensions to regulate his behavior.

    After thoroughly checking the interior and finding no captives, Ian concluded their search.

    “We’re done here. Beric, go and call sir Romandro and the villagers. Tell them we found the carriage too.”

    As they stepped outside, Hasha was seen growling against the wall. The boss, who had awakened, was attempting to crawl away using his arms since both Achilles tendons were properly cut, rendering his legs powerless.

    “Woke up early, didn’t you?”

    “Urgh!”

    As Beric strode over, the bandit leader paled and sucked in a breath. He had been the leader of a rough bunch, but had never met someone as overwhelmingly strong as Beric. 

    And it wasn’t just strength, was it?

    “Piss off! You lunatic, go away!”

    The bandit, clearly out of his mind, was left with a deep trauma. He waved his hands and yelled at Beric, but Beric paid no mind and grabbed the bandit leader by the hair.

    Crack.

    “There there. No need to panic, let’s just have a nice chat.”  

    “That, that’s my sword…”

    Beric pressed the newly found black sword against the man’s neck. A faint cut appeared, soon beading with drops of blood. Despite its dulled edge, the blade was lethally sharp. It must be a sword of renown.

    “You bastard, answer the questions I ask you now without a single lie. Otherwise your head will roll into the afterlife and your men won’t even recognize you.”  

    Ian stood in front, looking down at the bandit with calm indifference. The unusual tone made the bandit attempt to lift his head, but Beric pinned it down with his foot, thwarting any movement.

    “How did you use necromancy with the necromancer’s corpse?”

    “What? I don’t understand what you’re…”

    “Thinking of playing dumb, are you?”

    Swoosh.

    At Ian’s words, Beric held the blade right up against his throat. Startled by the increasing pain of it slowly digging in, the bandit screamed.  

    “Gyaaah! F*ck, spare me, spare me!”

    “There’s no second chance. I’ll ask again. How did you perform necromancy with the necromancer’s corpse?”

    The bandit squeezed his eyes shut, then stammered out an answer.

    “I didn’t steal it, it followed me!” 

    “So why?”

    “That, that’s…”

    The bandit leader frowned at Beric’s black sword. It seemed to be a tricky matter to explain, so he casually feigned ignorance and moved past it.  

    “I don’t really know. At first, it wouldn’t die no matter what, so I thought it was valuable. I took the corpse to a slave trader, intending to sell it…”

    Slave trader. The word made Ian frown, sensing a clue to the unfolding events. It made sense for these plunderers and kidnappers to have a slave trader backing them.

    “Could those guys have helped?”

    “Yes! The slave trader said that if I used the brat’s corpse well, I could make a bunch more of those things. But he needed a lot of corpses, and killing people is, uh, our job, so…”  

    “So, you struck a deal. The slave trading syndicate taught you the spell, and in return, you’d create and sell the undead.” 

    “I don’t know what they did with the bodies, I swear! We just thought to sell one, but they promised gold every time we returned to Karenna if we brought more, so why refuse?”

    Slave traders didn’t only operate in Bariel. Due to the nature of their business, they needed to procure ‘goods’ encompassing various races and tribes. Also, unlike Bariel where slave markets weren’t a constant occurrence, the underground economies of neighboring countries were highly active.  

    “What’s the name of the merchant group?”

    “The Fakens Slave.”  

    Fakens. The name was familiar even to Ian, who lived a century later, indicating the syndicate’s significant scale and reputation.

    Suddenly, Beric struck the bandit leader’s face multiple times with the flat of the blade.

    Boom! Bam!

    “Are you short on words?”

    “Ugh! It’s the Fakens Slave Syndicate!”

    “Good, good.” 

    Beric seemed to consider this as part of earning his keep, proudly showing off the sword to Ian. Ian, with a slight smile, continued his interrogation.

    “So, some of the gold was received from the syndicate?”

    “Yes, that’s right! Exactly!”

    “And how did you utilize the spell?”

    “You’d need about ten intact bodies to get one in decent shape. And, we couldn’t use bald ones because the spell required hair.”

    Hasha, who was listening, twitched his ears.

    —That matches the method I use for my spells. Each necromancer has a unique style, and mine requires hair.

    The bandit’s eyes bulged in disbelief. A talking dog? And judging by the voice, it seemed like the soul of a child was inside.

    “Bald ones are lucky, then? They’re immune to your spell.”

    Ignoring Beric’s nonsense, Ian glanced at Hasha just in case.

    “Do you want to continue listening?”

    —Of course. I am the rightful owner of this body.

    “Fine. Tell us how the necromancy was conducted.”

    The bandit bit his lower lip as if going mad. The evil deeds he’d usually commit without a second thought now felt unforgivable as he confessed them out loud.

    “…We just delivered the bodies, and they took care of the rest. But they’re uncontrollable normally, so we had to tie them up when not in use.”

    Hasha listened intently to the bandit’s words. As the testimony lengthened, Ian signaled Beric with a glance to hurry back to the village.

    “After cleaning the bodies, we’d pick flowers to mask the smell…”

    Clip-clop, clip-clop!

    As Beric headed to the village, the bandit’s account continued. Hasha soon realized that the spell used on the bodies matched his own perfectly.

    ***  

    “Sir Roman~dro!”

    “Oh! It’s Beric! Beric! What about Ian?”

    “Aren’t you gonna ask if I flipped my stomach inside out?”

    “Oh my! Would that even be strange for you? So what about Ian?”

    “He’s with us. We found the carriage. And bring the guards too. We need to clean up this mess.”

    At Beric’s words, Romandro and his party’s expressions lit up. They immediately called the garrison captain to request support, and followed Beric as he led the horses. The moon had nearly set and the dawn sky was turning purple.

    Clip-clop, clip-clop!

    Numerous horses galloped towards the bandits’ den, and soon, the devastated state of the village came into full view.

    “Ian!”

    “You’ve arrived?”

    Ian welcomed Romandro with Hasha at his side. He immediately ran to the carriage, confirmed the documents and mana stones were safe, and knelt down.  

    Phew… Thank you. O’Lord.”

    “No, sir Romandro. Shouldn’t you be thanking me?”

    “Yes, yes. Beric, come here, atta boy!”

    “Uwagghh! Gross!”

    Beric recoiled in horror as Romandro attempted to express his gratitude personally. The captain of the guard who arrived shortly was shocked and quickly issued orders to his men.

    “My goodness, all this…”

    “They’re all dead. Just bodies.”

    “Ah, there’s one alive. The leader.”

    “First, collect the bodies! Check for anyone hiding inside! Take down every tent!”

    “Yes, understood.”

    As the moon set, so did the fate of the bandits. Ian, holding Hasha, watched as the guards organized the scene.

    ‘But why did the bandit leader seem to know so much about the spell, yet claimed ignorance about why the undead initially followed them?’

    It didn’t add up. Ian, arms crossed, locked eyes with the shivering bandit leader being escorted away and gave him a reassuring smile, implying they would meet again in the village.

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