26 The Bet 1
In the Bear tavern, Drake and his men were eating around a square table. The food was excellently cooked with spices coming from all over the world. Life in Helios was beyond expensive, since the majority of customers were often noblemen.
Although magic crystals were the main currency for Magi, acolytes were often forced to pay in gold coins, since most of what they bought wasn't valuable enough. Drake looked at the Bear Tavern's weekly rent: three hundred gold coins for just Drake, Black and White rat and Lewis. This was madness. However, in Helios, it was a very good deal, a 'friendly deal'.
Drake and Felicia were not that close, but the former was a newcomer who isolated himself while the latter was ashamed of her horrible scars. Both found comfort in talking to each other. They were indeed friends.
Drake had received many invitations over the past two months: newly founded factions and deeply rooted factions alike. However, Drake rejected them all. After all, these factions granted little benefits besides getting an easier time finding partners to complete missions with. Since Drake had yet to complete a single mission, there was no benefit whatsoever in joining one of these factions. He could make use of his status of gifted acolyte to earn favours from people who had lost hope in breaking through.
Of course, if you contributed to a faction, you would receive pointers from higher-ranked acolytes or get opportunities to join generous expeditions with plenty of rewards. But most of the time, acolytes were just exploited and pressured into joining a faction. And if a faction war burst, then every single member of the faction would have to participate in it. No matter how Drake looked at it, it wasn't a risk worth taking.
Another benefit of factions would be access to exclusive meditation rooms as rewards. However, with Magus Kayle's Sigil of acknowledgement, Drake could spend days in the tower without having to pay a single magic crystal, hence his reluctance to join a faction.
The alchemist Fred who Drake swindled into making him free toxins was a prime example of that.
Drake was lost in thoughts, but Felicia suddenly interrupted his wild imagination.
"Drake, I have managed to talk the sentinels into giving you a chance to spar with them."
"Really?", Drake was overjoyed.
He had asked Felicia for contacts and get to train with the knights. He hoped to earn insight on knight killing techniques and swordsmanship in general. He seemed to have reached a bottleneck in the technical aspect. Of course, he had long since exceeded his own father in terms of sword attainments, but Drake didn't wish to become a mere knight. He wanted to become a strong body refinement acolyte.
However, no matter how many times he practiced the Arclight Chop, he couldn't find any way to improve it. Furthermore, the biochip estimated the time to improve the technique through simulations to be around four years, so he gave up this idea until he gathered more data. In this aspect, the sentinels were a golden mine of data, so he gave it a shot, talking to Felicia for contacts.
Little did he know, in a few days, she had managed to convince the Sentinels to let him, a newcomer, join their training!
Drake hugged Felicia before heading to the Sentinel Training Camp, a usually restricted zone for acolytes. It was a safe zone for non-acolyte people. Drake's arrival was met with two sentinels, who were obviously stronger than your average guards.
[Sentinel – Human Male
Age – 58 years. Rank: Knight
Status – Healthy.
Strength – 3.4 | Dexterity – 1.1 | Constitution – 3.8 | Internal Energy – 10.7
[Sentinel – Human Male
Age – 56 years. Rank: Knight
Status – Healthy, Peak.
Strength – 3.8 | Dexterity – 2.0 | Constitution – 3.5 | Internal Energy – 16.7
These two knights were in their fifties, yet their hair was brown and their faces showed no signs of aging. Obviously, strengthening potions and toxins reinforced their bodies and battles hardened their constitution. After years of service, they became knights who could proudly call themselves elite knights.
"Who are you? Acolytes are not allowed in the sentinel casern. Please do not cause trouble, young man", the oldest spoke.
Drake frowned, feeling troubles coming his way: "I am Drake Moonlight, and my friend Felicia from the Bear Tavern just told me that your higher ups allowed me to attend your training. I walk the path of body refinement, and a few months ago, I was still a knight. I won't let you down."
The other sentinel showed an apologetic face upon hearing Drake's politeness to them. After all, most of acolytes treated them like sub humans. However, someone had insisted in troubling this young man, and they couldn't offend this 'someone'.
"I am afraid you will have to ask your friend a letter of recommendation. No one can pass this gate without one. This is the law. Even if your words are true…I cannot let you enter just like that", the other man said.
Drake frowned. He was originally excited to the point that he ran all the way down from the centre of Helios in which the Bear Tavern was located to the outskirts, where the Sentinel casern was located. For two months, the only 'knight' training he did was practicing his Grand Knight level breathing technique and swing his sword in the air occasionally, when he needed to vent out his frustration.
For the first time in the past two months, he was about to spar with someone. He was about to fight. He didn't enjoy killing people, but fighting was something that defined him, as if fighting made him alive, as if it gave him a purpose in life. Of course, he still feared death. The Battle of Alm still evoked some lingering fear in his heart. But for instance, sparring would often bring him joy.
And yet, these two old men wouldn't budge or let him pass. However, in a contest of stubbornness, no one could beat Drake.
"Article 8: Corruption is punished by 10 magic crystals, 200 gold coins and 50 lashes in the Sun Place", Drake said as he quoted the Sentinel Code, which all sentinel members swore their life to abide to, "Article 7: A sentinel must act with violence only when violence is needed. If there is a peaceful way to end a conflict, it must be privileged, even if it is not in the personal interest of the sentinels. Article 23:…"
"What are you…Why are you quoting our code?"
"I mean, you make trouble in the middle of the day. I wonder what your higher-ups will say when they hear you gave troubles to their esteemed guest…", Drake threatened.
The two old men were sweating, as if they could already feel the lashes they would be given.
"I will talk to the captain and see…", one of them muttered in a low voice.
However, a bystander who was watching the scene with interest suddenly came out, and complained: "You sentinels are truly good-for-nothings. Fine, feel free to tell your captain whatever you want."
Drake titled his head in surprise. He couldn't understand. He was a newcomer, and he had done nothing in the past two months besides scanning books and eating in an unpopular tavern. If anything, he was talented and someone was jealous.
'Was it because I refused to join one of these second-zone organizations which sought to exploit me?'
The man revealed his attire by coming out of the shadows. He had a blue robe, proof of his rank 1 acolyte status: "I am Franklin, a body refinement acolyte. I have joined the Magical Court four years ago, and I completed one mission after another. I sweat a lot, I bled a lot and I can't even count the number of times I nearly died in a battlefield. Last month, I was in an expedition and lost a finger in a battle."
"What does it have to do with me?", Drake thought out loud. He had done nothing offensive and he followed Evangeline's advices by staying low key these past two months. And yet, his efforts proved to be insufficient. Furthermore, the one seeking trouble with him was a rank 1 acolyte.
"You…managed to purchase the enchanted heavy armour set I had my eyes on! I have been for an opportunity to buy a half-artefact like that for years, but treasures body refinement acolytes are scarce in Helios. If only I wasn't injured and forced to purchase a potion in order to avoid lasting injuries, the heavy armour set would have been mine!", the man complained out loud.
"I know it is a treasure, that's why I bought it. Since I bought it, it belongs to me. End of the story. Listen, I don't want any trouble. If you want an apology, I will give it to you, but I won't part with something I rightfully purchased just because you wish to possess it."
Franklin gritted his teeth and took out a pouch: "There are thirty magic crystals in there. I want you to sell me the enchanted heavy armour set. I was there when you bought it at 25 magic crystals in the street auction. You will thus earn 5 magic crystals out of this deal. I know you are a newcomer. Life in Helios is difficult, and very expensive. Spells cost at least 20 magic crystals, and I am not even accounting for the meditation room rent…"
"Oh, come on!", Drake exclaimed out loud, "You think you can trick me like that? The auctioneer made a loss by selling it at 25 magic crystals. Even if you propose 40 magic crystals, I won't change my mind. I might be a newcomer, but I know that the market price is around 50 magic crystals. The enchantment is sturdiness, thus complementing with any body refinement or even a knight's fighting style. I wouldn't be surprised if someone bought it at 70 or even 80 magic crystals."
Enchanted artefacts were often known as half-artefact, because although they couldn't compare to the true magical artefacts in terms of effectiveness, or possessed tough requirements, they were still extremely valuable.
Drake was no longer the ignorant bumpkin he was upon coming in Helios. With the first floor of the library scanned in his biochip, these analyses were pretty easy to come up with. There was no way he would part with his heavy armour set for a measly 30 magic crystals.
Franklin seemed uncomfortable with so many people approaching the scene out of curiosity. In a matter of a few minutes, over a dozen bystanders were surrounding him, some making fun of him out loud for his swindling attitude.
The pair of sentinel guards, unable to accept to take the fall, withdrew from the commotion: "I am sorry, Franklin. You did save our lives in the last month, but we won't throw it away just because you say so. We listened to your request, so now we are even", the oldest guard said while running away.
Franklin, flustered, said: "You exaggerate too much…"
'Yes, I do, but who will the crowd believe? Me or a swindler?'
In fact, although the heavy armour set was indeed worth a fortune, it wasn't exactly in pristine condition: the enchanted heavy armour set he had purchased was obviously worn for years. Thankfully, the rune 'sturdy' provided extraordinary durability to the armour, but it definitely wasn't as sturdy as it originally was. Drake estimated the original defence power of the armour to be around 15 degrees of damage, which decreased to 12 degrees of damage over time. But there was no way of telling unless you appraised the heavy armour set in details.
Enchanting was a rather lucrative business, but it required tremendous amounts of resources and restricted knowledge. In Helios, there were only a handful of people who managed to dive into this art. As a matter of fact, this handful of rune masters belonged, without exception, to the wealthiest individuals in Helios.