Corruption

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Chapter 6

"Ah, I didn't think travelling would be this tiring," I exclaimed as I dropped myself on to the bed at the inn. After resting for a few hours in the forest, we quickly got back on our horses and began travelling once more. And our journey eventually led us to Liberatum, an adventurer's town. This town was located in the middle of the forest for adventurers to rest during their journey. Luckily, this town was located by a water source, which helped sustain the townspeople. Even merchants stopped in this town to sell their goods to passing adventurers.

Ren sat on the bed opposite to me while reading a book. He simply returned my phrase with a silent stare and then returned his attention to his literature. Only the two of us remained in the room as everyone else had left to replenish their supplies. Nocturne and Ace decided to also visit a blacksmith to sharpen their blades and buy new weapons in case we encounter more enemies along our journey.

"So, Ren, have you actually travelled away from the Kingdom?"

He nodded in reply without looking away from his book, "only as far to the Kingdom of Sapientia."

"Oh, so you've actually been there before? What did you have to do there?"

"Gather books for princess Rosa," he replied.

"Oh, I see."

Suddenly, Ren shut his book and directed his attention towards me. "Stella, do you know how Nocturne received those wounds?" His expression was full of seriousness.

I looked at him, confused. "No," I shook my head, "I left Nocturne outside the cavern since he was being affected by the corrupt magic. And there were no undead around the area. Then I passed out after I purified the area in the cave. And when I woke up, Nocturne was already carrying me back."

Ren placed his hand on his chin, deep in thought. "Those wounds Nocturne received didn't seem like they were from any of the undead that we were fighting with. Either way, please keep a close attention to any corrupt magic that you sense."

I nodded quickly, "of course I will. I don't want anyone important to me to get hurt."

Ren raised his eyebrow, questioning my phrase.

"Yes, I don't want Ace to get hurt either, despite how despicable he can be," I rolled my eyes.

He smiled at me. Wow, Ren looks so handsome when he's smiling.

A gentle knock sounded at the door. "Come in," I called. The door opened with Aeris entering the room. "Where are Nocturne and Ace?"

"They're outside, practicing their swordsmanship. Honestly, they don't understand the meaning of rest," she sighed.

I giggled. "Well, I guess I'll go down and watch them for a bit." I made my way out of the inn and saw a large crowd not too far from the door. I could hear the sounds of excited cheers blended with the sounds of metal clashing. "Excuse me," I spoke as I squeezed my way through the energetic observers only to find one of the fighters to be standing right in front of me.

A loud clang suddenly rang in the air as Ace had sliced vertically downward at Nocturne. However, Nocturne had blocked his attack. While they locked blades, Nocturne turned his head to look at me. "Don't you dare lose to Ace!" I commanded. I could see the hints of a smile right before he returned his attention back to his opponent.

Nocturne swung his blade at Ace, causing him to be shoved back by the force. It was then that I got the chance to take a look at Nocturne's new weapon. The blade was bright silver, with a light tint of blue. The hilt was made with, what seemed like, gold. There was even a design of wings carved as the guard of the hilt. I wonder what that sword could be made of. It's beautiful.

Ace immediately ran forward and continuously swung his blade at Nocturne. All Nocturne could do was defend all the receiving blows. "Is blocking all the great knight can do? It'll be pretty disappointing to see you lose like this," he mocked.

A soft chuckle left Nocturne's lips. "I didn't get praised by the King simply because I can defend myself, you know. And I am not allowed to lose to you." Their blades locked once more.

"Is that just because the brat told you not to?" Ace grimaced as he used all his strength to not be pushed back by Nocturne.

"Of course. A knight shall always listen to their master's orders." In that instant, Nocturne jumped back and away from Ace. As soon as he landed, he pushed his legs off the ground, jumping high into the air as he spun his entire body. And he attacked Ace with a high spinning blade. Ace tried to defend himself but the blow was too powerful. As the attack struck, Ace was knocked off his feet and fell to the ground. Nocturne pointed his sword at Ace. "I win," he declared.

Everyone in the crowd clapped and cheered at the victor. I also clapped, proud that Nocturne didn't lose to that stupid Ace. In the corner of my eye, I noticed someone else who was observing the fight from afar. The person was wearing a dark, brown robe with the hood pulled all the way, hiding his face. In his hand was a weapon--a sword. The sheath was completely black with a single golden line straight down. The hilt had a golden guard and pommel. The grip was wrapped beautifully in black, silk cloth that also dangled in the wind. My eyes constantly trailed the man--or more precisely, his sword. There was just something so intriguing to me about his weapon, but I wasn't quite sure what it could be.

"Stella...Stella."

"Hey, brat!"

I snapped from my little trance and looked at Nocturne and Ace who were now staring at me. "What? Sorry I was distracted."

"I said, 'let's go get some food'. What're you spacing out for?" Ace asked.

"Uh, it's nothing. Let's go call everyone else and head over to a tavern. I'm starving," I replied.


The next morning, we continued on our journey. We all rode our horses in silence, with the same routine of taking brief breaks to allow the horses to rest. Ugh..All I was able to think about last night was that mystery man and his black sword. Does his sword have some magical properties? But I couldn't really pick out anything in particular about the sword, other than its unique appearance.

"Hey, Stella," Nocturne spoke suddenly, "are you alright? You seem quite distracted this morning."

"During your fighting practice with Ace yesterday, I saw someone."

"Is it someone you know?"

I shook my head. "I couldn't see his face. He wore a robe. But his weapon--". Suddenly, Nocturne halted the horse. He didn't say anything, but looked in a single direction. I looked forward, following his stare, and in the distance, stood a man in a dark, brown robe. "It's him."

"What business do you have with us, traveler?" Nocturne asked loudly.

The man did not reply. He simply kept his gaze towards us. Then, his neck moved positions slightly. Wait...is he looking at me? Without a single sound, the man drew his blade. The blade was pitch black, with only a golden line in the fuller. I was even more interested in the blade. In addition to its darkened beauty, I felt the temptation of claiming his sword. I want that blade... I must have it.

Ace and Nocturne immediately dismounted from their horse and drew their weapons. "State your business or leave now," Nocturne warned.

"Tch, if you aim your weapon at someone, you'd best be prepared to die by one," Ace said as he pointed his sword forward.

Again without words, the man dashed forward and first swung his blade towards Ace. Ace blocked the attack but was immediately knocked off his feet by the sheer power of the man's blow.

"Ace!" Aeris cried.

Nocturne immediately ran forward and attacked but the man blocked with ease. Their blades held each other, neither of the two falling back. But I noticed that Nocturne was frowning even more against this person. Is this guy really that strong that even Nocturne has trouble? I then dismounted from the horse and drew my own sword. I have to help him. I ran forward and jumped high to slash at the man who was having a contest of strength with Nocturne. But as soon as he noticed me attacking, he immediately pushed himself off of Nocturne's blade, avoiding my strike. As he repositioned himself away, the man took a more defensive stance as he looked at his two opponents.

"Stella, don't fight and stay back. He's a very skilled swordsman."

"You're having troubles. It'll be better if it's two-on-one."

"Let me protect you."

"Let me fight with you."

Nocturne frowned even more. "You're no match for him. You'll only get in my way."

I could feel my nerves snapping. "Just because I'm a weak noble doesn't mean I can't fight with a sword either!" I yelled. I immediately ran forward towards the man, brandishing my sword.

"Stella!" Nocturne called out. But I ignored him and continued with my assault. I could hear him start running behind me.

The man started running towards me and swung his sword. I immediately guarded the blow. And the man jumped back once more, avoiding Nocturne's strike. Then both Nocturne and I pounced forward, our blades aimed at the man. Just as soon as our blades were about to hit, the man spun. I felt a kick to my stomach and gasped in pain as I hit the ground, opposite to where everyone else stood.

"Grahh!" I heard Nocturne cry out. I could see a large gash over his chest. His armor and clothing were now slowly being dyed in red.

"Nocturne!" I tried to get up to go heal his wounds but a sharp, stabbing pain forced me back on my knees. I coughed up a mouthful of blood. H-how am I this injured? The impact wasn't that strong.

Nocturne stabbed his blade into the ground as he forced himself on to his feet. His balance was unsteady as his feet wobbled. His hand gripped his chest as he tried to drown out the pain with pressure. But as he tried to take a step forward, his feet immediately gave way and he dropped to his hands. Aeris and Ren immediately rushed to his aid.

The man was now towering above me. I could do nothing but stare into the shadows under his hood. He sheathed his blade and picked me up from the ground. "No, let me go!" I tried to struggle but cringed at the pain in my abdomen.

"Stella!" Nocturne called out.

Without uttering a single word, the man dashed away, taking me away from my companions. Not too far away, his stallion awaited. The animal's coat and mane were well kept, much better than any ordinary traveler's horse. Its coat was shiny and black with a white mane and feathering. Even its saddle was made of high quality leather. This guy isn't just any ordinary person. Who is he?

He sat me onto his horse, then mounted on behind me. It was then, as we began to depart, that he finally removed his hood. The man had a head of wavy, brown hair. I stared at the man in surprise. "Olber?!" He looked at me. His eyes had a kind look, yet they were indifferent of the previous situation. It was strange looking at him, as if he didn't care about what he had just done. "W-why did you attack us? Why did you hurt Nocturne?"

Olber turned his head away with no intention of speaking. I began to dismount the moving horse, despite the constant pain. But Olber immediately grabbed on to my wrist, stopping me. I turned to look at him, but I was only, once again, surprised. Despite everything that had occurred, Olber appeared to be completely sane. What's going on?

A few hours later, we eventually arrived to a town. I had no idea where we were. But Olber seemed to know where to go. We passed by all the market and main area of the town. Ahead of us was a foreign castle. "We're in Potestatem?" I asked. But, of course, Olber did not answer. We continued towards the castle, however, we did not enter through the castle's main entrance. Olber led the horse to the side of the castle, towards a large garden.

There, we were met by a man wearing light, black armor. The armor had scale-like plating over vital areas on the body, which would allow for swift, agile movements in addition to protection. He had a head of shoulder-length, black hair. He looked like he was in his mid twenties.

"Welcome, Stella," he greeted

Olber and I dismounted from the horse. I stumbled on my feet but immediately casted a healing spell to, at least, alleviate the pain. "Who are you? How do you know me?" I questioned.

"I am the King of Potestatem, Darren," he introduced. "You must have many questions, but there is no time for them. The world is in danger. And you are the only one who can save it from its path to destruction." He turned his attention to Olber, "give the sword to Stella."

Without questioning, Olber immediately offered the sheathed weapon to me. I stared at the weapon, transfixed by its beauty. Unconsciously, my hand reached for the sword. This sword...finally, it's in my hands. Suddenly, the sword was pulled away and I immediately looked at Olber in anger. I was angry that what I desired was just centimeters from my reach.

He looked at me hesitantly. "Darren, are you certain this won't cause her harm?" he asked without taking his eyes off me, finally speaking.

"This is the only way to prevent disaster."

"But, what if there is a change?" He finally turned to look at the King.

While Olber took his attention away from me, I immediately snatched the sword away from his hands. I immediately felt immense magical power rushing into me from the sword. It felt ten times greater than the power I had experienced in the library. I allowed all the wonderful feelings to flow from the sword to my body. "Ahahaha!" I laughed in maniacal joy. The powers surged within me. I felt so amazing--so powerful. This power is mine, all mine. And no one will ever take it from me! After a few moments, I had completely absorbed all the powers from within the sword. I breathed slowly, with a grin on my face.

"Stella...?" Olber asked cautiously.

My eyes moved towards him slowly. "You tried to keep this power from me?" I asked.

Olber did not reply. He looked at me, his expression full of concern.

Don't look at me like that...

"Stella?" he held out his hand to me.

"Stop looking at me like that!" I cried and released the magical energies within my body. Olber was flung off his feet and crashed into the side of the castle. His body crumpled down to the ground. He remained still.

Almost... You are almost complete.

I quickly turned my head and saw another figure standing beside King Darren. But when I blinked again, the figure was gone. This voice...What do you mean?

If you don't want to lose your powers, you must retrieve the stone.

Stone?

The one currently held by the Noble of Darkness. Only then will you be complete and filled with unparalleled power which you deserve.

Alright, then I shall retrieve the stone.

"King, I'm borrowing your horse," I stated as I mounted the black stallion Olber and I were riding earlier. Without awaiting his reply, I quickly left the castle's garden and made my way on to the same path out of the town.


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