The Beginning After The End - Chapter 283
Chapter 283: A Mutually Beneficial Partnership
“This is why you need the expensive stuff!” the drunkard emphasized as the glass hit the bar table with a ‘thud’. “Come on, pretty boy. Take a swig!”
I glared at the grizzled old man with caramel liquid dribbling down the sides of his
mouth and into his beard and wondered how I ended up in this situation.
After the drunkard, who’d introduced himself as Alaric, interrupted me in the library and asked what continent I had come from, I’d promptly dragged him outside for some answers.
Alaric had refused to say any more without something in return. Lo and behold, the alcoholic wanted…alcohol.
He’d then led me to his favorite establishment, which was surprisingly upscale for a man who wasn’t even wearing shoes. We had been here ever since, sitting in the dark corner of the bar table away from the other patrons sprinkled throughout the bar.
Letting out a sharp breath, I lifted my own glass and gulped down the rum.
A smooth burn washed over my mouth and throat, followed by a sweet and oaky wave of flavor that lingered on my tongue.
“There, happy?” I challenged as the drunkard waved his hand at the bartender for a refill.
“I’d be happier if you order the entire bottle,” the old man said with a nudge.
“How about this?” I took the refilled glass in front of him and began slowly pouring the rum into the sink on the other side.
“No!” Alaric drawled as he pulled at my arm, which made me spill even more of the rum. “Fine, fine!”
I placed the half-empty shot glass back in front of the man who quickly snatched it away from my reach.
“What kind of sick bastard throws out good rum,” he grumbled.
Cocking a brow seemed to get the message across that I was no longer in the mood to humor him.
“You see…” Alaric whispered mysteriously as he leaned in close. “I have a crest that tells me you’re not from here.”
I stared deadpan at the old man.
He winked. “Just kidding.”
My annoyance turned to anger. I should’ve known that this alcoholic was just messing with me.
I stood up to leave when the drunkard spoke again.
“I don’t need magic to tell me that.” He rolled his eyes dramatically. “Anyone with half a brain would be able to tell if they spent some time watching you.”
“You were watching me?” I asked, sitting back down.
“Only because you stick out like a sore thumb. You carry yourself like a seasoned warrior, but your build and flawless skin suggests that you’re either a noble, caster, student or all three.” Alaric finished off the rum in his glass before continuing, “As if that’s not strange enough, you look and act like a tourist visiting from a faraway outpost.”
He waved his hand up and down as he examined me with a casual gaze. “You’re a walking bundle of inconsistencies. Now if you were in a more military or politically inclined dominion like Vechor or the Central Dominion, I’d put my nonexistent money on you getting cuffed in less than a day.”
I let out a scoff. “So why haven’t I drawn suspicion until now then?”
“Oh you probably have,” he mused. “Suspicion, curiosity, interest, all of the above. It’s just that Etril has always been a hub of diverse travellers that the worse they’d do is wonder and judge silently.”
After surveying the establishment we were in more carefully, I turned back to Alaric.
“Assuming what you said was correct, what is your reason for making yourself known?” I lowered my voice into a more threatening tone. “Haven’t you thought of the possibility that I’d just get rid of you?”
“In this place, where there are witnesses?” he asked, batting his eyes. “Trust me, kid. If I wanted to turn you in, I would’ve done so from a safe distance, but what does that do for me?”
“Excuse me?” I interjected.
“I don’t get anything out of turning you in.” Alaric paused, leaning in closer for dramatic effect. “If I were to, let’s say, help you instead, I’m sure we could come up with some sort of deal.”
I scoffed, shaking my head. “I think you’ve had one too many drinks. Besides, I don’t have much money.”
“Oh I don’t doubt that,” he agreed. “But I can recognize a golden ticket when it’s fluttering in my face.”
By this time, I was growing a bit uncomfortable, afraid that people would overhear. Alaric must’ve noticed because he waved his hand in dismissal. “Relax. I’ve been obstructing the sound around us so no one has heard a thing we’ve said.”
Is that why Alaric had been gesturing for a refill instead of asking for one?
Disappointed in myself for failing to notice and frustrated at how my lack of mana perception was hindering me in cases like this, I let out a sigh. “So you’re saying that even though you think—”
“Know,” he corrected.
“Think, that I’m not from here,” I stressed. “You’d rather try and strike a deal with me rather than turn me in?”
He cast a sleepy eye at me. “Is that so strange?”
“It’s just that the people from this city seem so reverent of the High Sovereign,” I said.
“What does my respect or disrespect of the Vritra have to do with helping out a refugee?” he quipped.
“Fine,” I acquiesced. “Let’s assume that your suspicions are true. What can you provide me and what exactly would you want in return?”
“You’re an ascender, or at least you’re trying to pass yourself off as one, right?” he questioned.
“How did you know?”
“The inn you’re staying at caters mostly towards ascenders visiting since there’s an ascension chamber in this city,” he answered dismissively. “Now. Onto your first line of questions. I’ll help you blend in so you don’t stick out like an armored troll shopping in city square, no questions asked.”
“No questions asked?” I echoed, interested.
“Frankly, I don’t give two shits about who you are,” he answered, swirling the caramel liquid in his glass. “That’s not it though. I’ll also help train you for ascents.”
I stared at the inebriated man, whose entire face was flushed and eyes barely able to focus on one thing for more than a few seconds. “Why?”
“Well, you’re going to need to be a successful ascender in order to make me lots of money, right?” He let out a scoff. “Good alcohol doesn’t come cheap, you know.”
Admittedly, I was intrigued by his offer. The strange gazes I attracted had been growing more frequent over the past few days. And Aramoor City was even considered one of the most diverse cities according to a book I had read.
“So all you want is money?” I confirmed. “How much of it, exactly?”
“Sixty percent of all of your earnings in the Relictombs as well as any form of ancillary promotions or winnings you earn while you’re on the surface as well,” he answered as if he had the figure set before we’d even sat down.
I gaped. “Sixty percent?”
“Hey! I’m uprooting myself from my beloved home and travelling with you while offering my tutelage.”
“You have a home here?” I raised a brow.
Alaric let out a cough. “The city is my home.”
I rolled my eyes. “So no home.”
“Don’t be so whiny, kid. Besides, Stormcove Academy takes around thirty percent of their graduates’ profits they get from selling accolades or other precious material found only in the Relictombs for the first five years after graduating. And that percentage is even higher in Vechor, Sehz-Clar and the Central Dominion,” he divulged before giving me an innocent expression. “But since you’re from Alacrya, you already knew that, right?”
I actually didn’t know. Much like the rest of the information about Alacrya that I did know, it consisted of tidbits I had picked up here and there by eavesdropping on conversation or asking questions like I had in Maerin.
“Forty percent,” I countered after a brief pause.
“Deal,” he replied immediately.
I raised a brow while Alaric quickly grabbed my hand and shook it.
“Stormcove only charges five percent while even the most prestigious ascender academies charge twenty percent,” he said, shooting me a wink.
Regardless of his deceit, it highlighted how much I needed help outside the Relictombs if I didn’t want to draw attention.
“Will you be coming with me on my ascents?” I inquired.
“Are you crazy? Of course not!” Alaric sputtered. “Does this look like a body fit for that godsforsaken place?”
I nodded. It would be easier that way.
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Money wasn’t something I had any greed for. It was the relics I needed and that would be something I could store in my dimensional rune. Even if Alaric’s ascent training was utterly useless, as long as he could help me acclimate to Alacryan lifestyle without prying into me, it’d be worth it.
I didn’t trust this drunkard but at least his intentions were straightforward. I trusted human greed more than kindness, and if he had any other ulterior motives—well, hopefully it wouldn’t come to that. If it does, it shouldn’t be too difficult to remove him as a threat.
“You done introspecting?” Alaric interrupted, holding a new bottle of liquor in his hands.
“What’s that?” I pointed at the bottle.
“Oh this?” He gave me a wide grin. “Down payment.”
I resisted the urge to bury my face in my hands. Out of all the kinds of people out there, how was I stuck with the alcoholic version of Regis?
Suddenly, Alaric jumped off his barstool, stumbling to gain balance before turning to me. “Anyway, we should get moving. Lots of things to do and we’re burning daylight.”
After paying the bartender with my runecard, I followed after my new unstable adviser.
Our first order of business was getting ‘my story straight’, as he called it. To do this, we went back to my inn.
As I opened the door to see Regis waiting by the entrance, I didn’t know what to expect from Alaric.
Both the aetheric dog and drunk man stared at each other silently for a minute, as if still processing what they were actually seeing.
Unexpectedly, Alaric was the one that wobbled over to the black and blazing purple wolf and…patted him on his head.
“Good dog, there, aye,” Alaric slurred as Regis turned to me, giving me a baffled look.
“It’s fine,” I comforted. “This inebriated gentleman will be working with us for the time being.”
“Ah, well in that case. What’s up, old man?”
“It talks!” Alaric gasped, stumbling back behind me to use as a shield.
“How rude. I’m not an ‘it’! I’m a ‘he’…” Regis then cocked his head toward me. “Or am I a ‘she’?”
With a smirk toward Regis, I said, “Does gender matter for a ‘mighty weapon’ such as yourself?”
“I’m a ‘he’,” Regis decided while Alaric continued to mutter curses to himself about how he regretted all of this.
Once I was able to drag my drunk advisor inside the inn, I began to explain my situation with much of the details omitted.
Alaric himself said he wasn’t interested in my past. He just needed enough to go off of in order to come up with a story.
“Okay, Grey. You did a good job not telling people your blood name. That carries much more importance than your given name,” he acknowledged while his eyes continued darting between me and Regis. “First thing’s first. I don’t know how you got acquainted enough to a Denoir that they’d be willing to give you this dagger—”
“Lend,” I corrected.
“Lend. Whatever,” Alaric dismissed. “The important thing is that you don’t tie yourself up with Highblood Denoir. While it’ll definitely get you out of some sticky situations, it’ll also draw too much attention—especially once we get into bigger cities.”
“Then, what do I do?” I stared down at the white dagger in my hand. “Without this, I have no identity here.”
“That’s where I come in,” Alaric replied. “I have an acquaintance who’s an accomplished artificer capable of forging you an identity. You’ll be my nephew that I took under my wing because you didn’t want to follow after your father in the merchant business.”
“You just happen to have an accomplished artificer friend that’s able to forge identities?” I pried, suspicious.
“Accomplished, yes, but gravely underpaid,” he chuckled. “Two clients make him more gold from this side of business than a year’s wage he gets at the fancy laboratory he works at in Sehz-Clar.”
I frowned. “Sehz-Clar? Isn’t that the southern dominion?”
“Relax. He has a tempus warp anchored to this city,” he answered, taking a swig from his newly acquired bottle of alcohol. “Anyway, I need to know a bit more about your… abilities.”
‘How much are you going to tell him?’ Regis asked mentally.
Just enough to have something to work with.
“Augmented regeneration, strength, speed,” I listed off.
“How augmented? And no elements? You’re strictly a striker then?”
“Very augmented,” I said confidently. “No elements, and if you’re asking if I have any long-range spells, not yet.”
“Have you gone on an ascent before?” he asked while deep in thought.
“Just once,” I admitted.
Alaric nodded, undeterred. “That’s better than nothing. How big of a group did you ascend with?”
I tilted my head. “It was just me.”
“Just you…” Alaric repeated slowly, cocking a brow.
“I did team up with a few others in a convergence zone, but we parted ways after,” I explained, not sure what he was thinking when he suddenly lowered his head.
What I didn’t expect was for the old drunk to start laughing maniacally.
Regis and I exchanged a glance and my lupine companion twirled a paw beside his head.
“I’m not crazy!” Alaric snapped, taking another swig from his bottle. “I’m allowed to be happy.”
He looked at me like I was made of jewels. “It’s not everyday that you strike gold like this. A striker capable of not only surviving in the Relictombs but has gotten far enough to reach a convergence zone!”
“Maybe you should ease up on the alcohol,” I warned, but before I could take the bottle away, Alaric shoved the bottle in his dirty pants.
“Don’t you dare, pretty boy.” He narrowed his bloodshot eyes. “Take this away from me and I’ll be nonfunctional and there’s still too much to do.”
Pushing himself off the ground, he teetered toward my companion.
“How did you manage to hide this companion of yours, anyway?” he questioned, studying Regis. “I’d expect him to draw attention, especially in these parts.”
“I usually just hide inside him,” Regis answered in my stead, demonstrating by leaping and disappearing into my body.
Alaric just stared at me for a few moments, opening his mouth at one point only to close it back shut. He repeated this a few times before deciding to take another gulp of his rum. “I’m not even going to ask. Just…make sure that when your companion—”
“Regis,” I cut in. “His name is Regis.”
The old drunkard gestured grandly while rolling his eyes. “Just make sure Regis doesn’t talk in front of other ascenders.”
“So it’s fine to fight alongside Princess here?” Regis asked as he slipped back out of my form. He looked rather excited by the idea.
“I don’t see why not. There are quite a few documented emblems and regalias where elements take on the form of a beast,” Alaric shrugged. “Those summons, however, are basically just animated puppets that can be preprogrammed with certain sets of instructions so no talking and it’s best not to stay out for that long.”
“Hell yes!” Regis whooped. “No more twirling my metaphorical thumbs while watching Princess have all the fun.”
“Now!” Alaric declared. “Since I have the basic rundown, let’s head to our first destination.”
“Which is?” I queried.
“We need to get some new clothes on you,” the drunkard sang as he did a sloppy twirl to demonstrate his point.
“If you’re talking about armor for the ascent, I already—”
“Bah! Not that, you wogart,” Alaric snapped.
Did he just call me a wogart? I didn’t know what that meant but I was pretty sure it was an insult.
“Remember my whole speech about you being a walking bundle of inconsistencies?” Alaric continued, walking toward the door in that unsteady yet surprisingly light-footed gait of his. “Right now, you look like some runaway prince that thinks he’s disguised himself by putting on a shabby outfit. You’d actually draw less attention if you just looked the part of a well-off blood.”
I frowned at the idea of looking like one of those colorful peacocks strutting down the streets. “Can’t I just look more shabby like a commoner? I’d feel more comfortable that way.”
“No,” he stated, deadpan. “Your face stands out too much.”
“My face stands out too much?” I echoed blandly.
“Annoyingly so,” he grumbled. “If I was born with a face like that, I’d just woo some rich highblood lady and bathe in sweet rum every night.”
Regis snickered while Alaric continued to mutter quietly about his delusions.
“Fine, let’s get this over with,” I hissed, following Alaric out of our room as Regis disappeared back into my body. “But what’s after that?”
“You, my dear nephew”—the drunkard patted my back—“will be taking your ascender’s assessment and start making your uncle some money!”