The Blood King - LightNovelsOnl.com
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A sigh sounded shortly after a woven basket was put down. An elderly man ma.s.saged his lower back as he looked up at the sky. Every few seconds he would puff a bit of air softly.
"Sigh, rest was saved for the dead, huh? Ha, then I guess I ain't that far from a good rest, then!" The old man cackled.
"Hah. This time's festival was too much for me. If I knew these brats would drag it out for another 2 days, this ancestor would have rested my old bones at home!
"Making rice dumplings for 3 days in a row..." He pounded his shoulder. "Maybe if I was younger, but this daddy here is already 89! Have a conscience, youth-rich b.a.s.t.a.r.ds!"
Although he cursed and berated, a wide smile sat on the old man's face. His occasional chuckle also contradicted his words.
He turned and left through the bright alley exit, bringing himself onto a messy stone-paved street.
"All that's left of my dumplings are those bamboo leaves in that crate, heh heh, at least they know what's good when they see it!" Waddling, He burst out in narcissistic laughter.
"Ah, but, hehe... I wouldn't be a master if I didn't save some for myself!" He rubbed his chin with a sly grin. "When I get back, how will those little s.h.i.+ts welcome me, hmm? 'Grandpa, grandpa, welcome back!', wishful thinking! Who raised them to be this way!? Ahah, well, grandchildren are grandchildren. I'll spoil them all the same!"
After walking a short distance, the old man entered a small wooden stall. It wasn't very big, as only 3 people at most would be able to fit in together. Its back was up against one of the many compact stone buildings, in an inconspicuous position, so as to not impede the building's owner's moves. The old man bent over, causing the counter to hide him as he fiddled with something. Like a lot of the other empty stalls lining the street, the old man's was partly painted in red. Vaguely depicted, a red coiling dragon sat stationary on the overhead front trim board.
"Somebody there?" A voice sounded.
"Ah? Give me a second!" The old man loudly packed away stuff. He thought, 'They're young'uns who move about this early? And after that monstrous festival??'
"Ahh!" His line of sight barely went over the counter when he screamed.
"DrHuff-ah..." Sweating like a pig, the old man gripped his chest and pointed. "Dragon mask!"
The person standing before him wore a carved and painted dragon mask on their face. Parts of its thick brown mane spilled over their shoulders while the rest slid down their back.
"So that's what this was? I thought it was a demon." The person said. "Or at least some kind of weird monkey!"
"Mon-Have your parents never taught you not to disrespect the sacred dragon?!" The old man slapped his counter.
"That would require having parents. But how is it my fault that this thing is ugly? Can you blame someone for mistaking it for a monkey? Maybe the craftsman should try harder next time." The person shrugged. "And... siii! What is this... fur made of?! It's itching my skin!"
"... Its look is right." The old man said through gritted teeth. "But enough about that for now. Are you trying to send me to an early grave?! Showing up wearing something like that, you're trying to kill this old man, aren't you! Huh?!"
"How could that be possible. I just found this mask and put it on out of curiosity, aren't you thinking too highly of yourself? And, 'enough about that for now'? What happened to your respect for the sacred dragon?" The person asked. "Furthermore, for all you know, I'm older than you."
"Heh heh, anyone older than this immortal here is either an ancient cultivator or dead!" The old man sneered. 'Ahh, this kid sure knows how to ride my nerves!!'
"And don't pretend to care about dragons now!"
"Hmm. What's there to be proud of? That just means you'll kick the bucket soon, doesn't it?" The person tapped the counter casually. "Don't you have any chairs around here?"
"What kick the bucket! I still have another hundred years in me!" Rolling up his sleeve, all wrinkles vanished as the old man's arm bulged. He then frowned exaggeratedly, saying, "I ain't got no chairs for you, so run along now!"
"A shame." The person sighed.
"... Young master... How long are you going to wear that? Are you going to continue scaring people? Yesterday, until the sun went down, you..." Aria's doubtful voice sounded.
"What scaring! How is it my fault that people scare so easily? And by their own creations?! They made this thing. If it's anyone's fault, it's theirs, isn't it!?" Levi spread his arms while explaining.
"So you were walking around with that thing on purpose, you lying brat!!!" The old man trembled.
"Young master? Hah, it's sad how believable that is. These n.o.bles are quite 'unique', after all." He sighed while scrutinizing the two.
"Old man, you said that out loud. What if some young master heard you?" Levi asked.
"Urk!" A bead of sweat slid down the old man's face as he covered his mouth. 'A young master DID hear me, didn't he?!'
"Well, whatever. What are you selling?" Levi craned his neck to look over the counter.
"W-Well, I've been selling some rice dumplings, but now I'm sold out-" He didn't allow the old man to finish properly.
"Didn't your parents teach you not to lie? I sense at least 2 dumplings in this stall."
"G.o.ddamit! here! Can't a man feed his grandchildren?! What kind of senses are those?!" Two rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves. .h.i.t the counter with a smacking sound.
"Sheesh. What kind of salesman h.o.a.rds his own goods?" Levi sneered.
"You... Thank you for your patronage..." The old man ground his teeth.
"Well, I'm not heartless. You can keep that one." As he said this, Levi motioned to Aria. She took out a pouch and paid.
"Young Master, the only thing left in my money pouch is air..." She said.
'So can we go get Nerezza now?' She sighed.
"Hmm. Just take out some when you get back. Here." Levi handed her the partly opened dumpling.
"You don't want it?"
"I already ate my half." Since the mask was bigger than his face, he could eat without removing it. Licking his lips, Levi turned to the old man. "This is quite a rich kingdom."
"Huh? Is it?" The old man tilted his head.
"I haven't seen any beggars, or people living on the street, sc.r.a.ping up whatever they can to survive. Just that alone shows how well off the people living here are. Moreover, the fact that people can go all out with festivals like this is the biggest proof. And to my knowledge, the one that just past is done every year, right?" Levi looked down the street. Although it was littered with trash like broken lanterns or disposable food containers, he couldn't find a single person lying among it.
"Well, if that's what painted that picture for you, then you're wrong." The old man narrowed his eyes.
"Hmm?" Levi lifted his gaze to look at the old man.
"You don't see anyone on the street mainly because of slavery." The old man hid the remaining dumpling.
"Slavery? What does that have to do with anything?" Levi tilted his head.
"Yeah, well." The old man sighed. "There is a law that says anyone caught sleeping on the street can be forcefully enslaved for at least 10 years. People thought it might be a joke at first, though that convoluted idea got yanked directly from their heads when soldiers combed the city, dragging away any and all squatters from the streets. Even if you were as tired as the dead, would you dare sleep then? There's also another law allowing you to sell yourself into slavery. In return for your rights, your owners will have to provide shelter for you, at the very least. The lack of homeless people is a result of these two laws. That doesn't mean your treatment will or has to be any good though. And the shelter they provide could range from a relatively normal, to high-cla.s.s room with a soft bed and clean sheets, to a pigsty.
"And don't think for a second that just because it's a law, that some people don't screw up and end up in tragic situations. Their faces when reality hits them... Sigh. Let's just say there's no pill for regret."
"Hmm. I guess I was wrong. But anyone looking at this place for the first time would think everyone here was rich. I mean, on my way here, I heard about all the amazing and valuable resources this place is home to." Levi snuck a glance at the old man.
"... Humph! Let me tell you. We aren't rich in the slightest. And part of it stems from those b.a.s.t.a.r.ds!!" The old man huffed.
"b.a.s.t.a.r.ds?" Levi gasped. The mask hid his grinning visage.
"Who else but those wilderness savages?!" Slapping the counter, the old man cursed.
"Although we live on the same continent, even though they were lucky enough to chance upon a treasure-filled land, they hog all of the heavenly materials for themselves! They even refuse to let anyone enter the forest. They really believe the entire place belongs to them!"
"..." Levi kept silent.
"Do you know how many of our countrymen, after venturing into that wilderness, come back wounded? On the verge of death?! Ask them to negotiate, and those brainless simpletons still attack! With all of those precious resources, do you know how many people we could save from sickness? From hunger? If they were willing to hand over a few trees, do you know how many people it would save from slavery? Nevermind the number who die from overwork at the quarries, cutting and shaping stone to build houses. They wouldn't have to sell themselves just for shelter! But those guys. They keep their I-don't-care att.i.tudes in spite of our hards.h.i.+ps! Even though they know how dangerous mutated beasts can be, they insist on protecting them. Even though they know their patterns and mannerisms, they keep quiet to watch our people die. And if they aren't watching, they're with the beasts killing!!
"With all of their privileges, they still refuse to help those with less fortune. Any time we send people over, they drive them out, just so they can selfishly hog the wilderness' resources. How can people like that exist?!" The old man panted.
'... They attacked you because they're selfish? And it has nothing to do with the fact that you kidnapped and enslaved their people?' Aria thought.
"Ha... hehe." Levi's grin widened under the mask.
"Hah. But then, although I don't approve of it..." The old man sighed. "People started going on about 'taking back what they lost'. Basically, an eye for an eye. Or in this case, replacing those who were killed. 'A life for a life'. People began sneaking into their camps and kidnapping children, since they were the easiest to handle. And let me tell you, from what I heard, the children are also quite a handful. After a few beatings though, even those 'little beasts' would 'calm down'. Then, they would brand them with three marks on their foreheads, supposedly so you could differentiate between our people and theirs."
"..." A person's face flashed in Levi's mind.
"But that was just an obvious way to humiliate them. If telling them apart from us was the goal, just the fact that they speak a different language would be enough. Their mannerisms and customs, even their appearances, differ from ours. And lets not even get into the 'training'. For the older ones who have no chance of learning our language..." The old man shook his head.
"In the beginning, there were even rumors going around that the talk of enslaving them originated from the Aqua palace."
"Aqua palace?" Levi pondered.
"... Oh, you just mentioned that you aren't from our kingdom, right? Here, the Aqua palace is where the royal family lives. Over there, see?" The old man pointed down the street. In the distance, a large, sophisticated building stood.
"Oh? A palace? Instead of a castle? This must be one peaceful kingdom..." Levi said in a strange tone.
"What do you mean?" The old man crossed his arms in confusion.
"Well, normally, royalty would prefer castles over palaces since they have walls to keep 'lesser people' out, right?" Levi said.
"What?! You can see it from here?! Young man, are you " Levi cut the old man off.
"Am I a what? You just told me it's a palace. Don't jump to conclusions."
"Oh... It's just... I met a strong martial artist in my younger days. I tried to make him take me in as a disciple, but... Sigh. Well, anyway..." The old man averted his gaze.
'This old man is quite interesting. Maybe I should play around with him a bit more?' Levi chuckled internally.
"Uhh, what was I saying..." The old man rubbed his temples with a frown. "What was I say- Oh, right! I heard that talk of using those people as 'free labor' originated from the Aqua Palace. But that can't be, because the..." The old man paused abruptly.
"Well anyway, it just couldn't have come from there. They have more important things to worry about." The old man went back to what he was doing before Levi arrived.
"... Well, let's go back." Levi stuck his hand under the mask to cover his yawning mouth.
"Back to the Inn."
The two walked down the street, opposite the Aqua Palace.
'I'll have to confirm my suspicions tomorrow.' Levi looked up at the sky.
'Just wait until then...'