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Knight of Demise Chapter 4

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Chapter 4

“Fuu …”

 

Julian puts down the doc.u.ment in his hands, rubbing his forehead in a newfound sense of fatigue.

 

Even though he had been aware after absorbing this body’s memories that the youth was embroiled in a troublesome situation, he did not quite expect the annoyance to be quite this obtuse.



 

A detailed report of Sunset Town’s affairs sits before Julian; its conclusions are the cause of his slight headache.

 

The root cause comes back to the nature of his fiefdom. Though the doc.u.ments given to the Felix youth by certain prominent aristocrats were genuine, they were not complete fools; if their prey had found out he was being sent as a victim, and acted with intent to solely cause chaos, then they would have to clean up the mess he left behind when he inevitably died, in particular the dual tasks of rebuilding and stabilization. Naturally, it was not a consideration that had escaped their minds. Therefore, the land that they had given the young Felix was a holding granted by a n.o.ble overlord. [1]

 

Upon this continent, there are two types of land tenures. One is tenancy in capite, [2] wherein land is bestowed directly from the crown to others by direct royal order. Of course, those that receive such an honor are usually significant past contributors to the monarchy’s cause, or are related by blood to the royal family. Accordingly, the granted land is s.p.a.cious enough for the most part to maintain their elevated status and reputation, and are comparatively resource-rich. The other is tenancy through enfiefment, a process through which a tenant-in-chief is able to carve out fiefs within his holdings to followers of his own. Compared to the land tenures granted to tenants-in-chief, fiefdoms rarely have their borders clearly demarcated, and are also difficult to develop, since the lord in question generally only designates one or several towns or forts to be managed by his va.s.sal. For example, Julian’s fiefdom nominally envelops the entirety of the Sunset Mountains, but he is only ent.i.tled to collect taxes from Sunset Town; though there are other towns and villages in the outer reaches of the mountains, Julian has no managerial power over them.

 

As a town cut off from the rest of the world, Sunset Town has few means of producing goods. Having resided here for generations, its residents rely only on their cultivated farmlands and the beasts they are able to hunt within the forest, having little else as a source of wealth. Thus, the amount of taxation receivable monthly amounts to barely more than a hundred gold. [3]

 

A hundred gold is not a small sum for an ordinary commoner, but a negligible amount for an aristocrat. Evidently, the doc.u.ment’s specification that Julian is able to supervise and tax Sunset Town alone is a limitation of his development. Though there is little need to worry about a near-dead man, it is best to alleviate the possibility of overly violent death throes. Ultimately, Sunset Town is both small and austere; its population barely numbers in the hundreds, and it has no economic power. Even if Julian wanted to start a revolt, the resources available would be insufficient, so he could be left to his own devices.

 

The only benefit is, on the merit that he was not long for this world, the n.o.blemen did not further contest the terms of their relations.h.i.+p, and moreover very “generously” waived a year of taxation. Therefore, Sunset Castle would not be taxed in the next year by those n.o.blemen in question – the only piece of good news for Julian, since

otherwise half of the hundred-odd gold would disappear into their hands. Under that kind of circ.u.mstance, Julian would be forced to abandon his position and abode even if he were omnipotent.

 

Sunset Castle is not a small castle. In Julian’s time, it was situated on the border of the kingdom, and, backed by the mountains, was easy to defend and hard to attack. The Sunset Mountains are rugged and complex, and the castle is situated on the only flat expanse. Interconnected with the town beneath, it offers reciprocal support and aid. Under the protection of the castle, the town is unlikely to be a.s.saulted, and the latter is able to reinforce the former with supplies. Adding on its constant supply of mountaintop spring water, it can be said to be an unconquerable castle.

  

In the past, an alliance of troops laid siege to the castle for half a year. Even though the enemy far outnumbered the defending troops within the keep, the alliance was nevertheless forced to retreat after the siege cost them over ten thousand men. According to legend, it is because of the countless dead that the forest is as lush as it is today.

 

Relying on the strength of the fortress allowed the kingdom to expand its borders by a third, and because of this, the former military stronghold no longer had a use. However, the positioning of Sunset Castle meant that it could not transform into a major hub for commerce or transportation. Consequently, the once-glorious citadel has completely fallen, and so too the a.s.sociated town, becoming a place with no further reason for existence.

 

Like warriors, their lives cease to have purpose when they are needed no longer.

 

Shaking his head to cast away the pointless musings, Julian redoubles his concentration upon the information in front of him. There still exists a great heap of things undone, and though he can leave the cleaning and reorganization of the castle to the wandering spirits, he cannot say the same for its management. Julian has no intention of living out the rest of his natural years here – he has his own plans, as well as the numerous things required to set them into motion.

 

Julian is not unfamiliar with such a situation. In his own world, he too began from nothing to achieve a remarkable career. If not for the vagaries of fate, he would not have chosen to leave his own world to come to a land of fantasticality and mystique. Regardless, Julian pursued a pinnacle of achievement as before, according to his heart’s desire; even then, he had made contingencies and preparations for a number of possible future outcomes. [4]

 

But presently, even starting from scratch may be a luxury.

 

No matter how capable Julian is, he only has two hands and ten fingers; it is inconceivable for him to oversee every facet of affairs. As a result, finding appropriate and talented subordinates is a necessity – though perhaps a pipe dream at this juncture.

 

“Anyhow, I can only rely on myself for now.”

 

Letting out a sigh of resignation, Julian gathers together the doc.u.ments in front of him again; a cold breeze flutters by, sending the papers fluttering into the air before coming to rest on a nearby bookshelf. Though the castle had not been inhabited for almost thirty years, the prior residents had been afraid of carrying the ‘demonic curse’ away with them, so Julian did not have to concern himself with furnis.h.i.+ngs – theirs had been left behind. Furthermore, because of the presence of the wandering souls, ordinary insects and wildlife dared not approach the castle, removing the possibility of especial damage to the furniture; the majority was still in usable condition.

 

The chilly air carries with it the faint sound of laughter, echoing throughout the s.p.a.cious gloom of the castle. It would naturally evoke feelings of fear and unease, but for Julian, it is merely a sign of spiritual caprice – a practice he isn’t too much against. Originally, he had planned to sleep on his thoughts before making a further decision, but the quiet whispers within those souls gives him pause.

 

Julian feels a clear change in the tone of the ensouled wind – its gentleness had suddenly transitioned to a fierce puzzlement. He concentrates, listening to the wandering spirits’ reports, then raises an eyebrow.

 

“There’s something like that, hmm?”

 

Julian mutters to himself, a flash of curiosity pa.s.sing through his eyes.

 

Light and warmth, cast from a burning torch, disperses the cold darkness of the underground pa.s.sageway. Holding such an implement, Julian descends upon the frosty steps with a serious expression; his right hand is pressed upon his sword-hilt. Even without the senses granted to him as a knight of demise, Julian easily tastes the danger inherent in the darkness beneath.

 

There is a malevolent spirit here.

 

In fact, the wandering souls should have continued their cleaning activities around the castle as yesterday. But upon their arrival at this particular spot, the souls had discovered, to their surprise, that they were unable to work; a stronger, more stinging force occupied the s.p.a.ce. In exasperation, the souls were forced to report the matter to their master, leaving him to handle its resolution.  

 

It is a rare occasion for Julian.

 

It should be known that his wandering souls were no ordinary ghosts. Having been born in the age of the Lucent Moon a thousand years past, they inherently possessed immense strength; bound furthermore by powerful spiritual magic and weathered by time, they might not match up well against wizards, but in the ethereal realm were essentially unrivalled. Given that this castle was built on the site of a former battlefield, the amount of historical fallen here was innumerable, and malevolent spirits thus not uncommon, but for the most part they had been consumed completely by the wandering souls as food. A malevolent spirit which was inedible for these souls is a rare sight indeed, and piques Julian’s curiosity.

 

Standing within the pitch-black pa.s.sage, Julian understands finally their obstacle.

 

The air is thick, not only with the despair and obsession characteristic for a malevolent spirit, but also with a potent void energy – a special kind of magical energy which only affects the intangible and the illusory. Because of this, a s.p.a.ce filled with void energy is a dead zone for wandering spirits, who lack a physical form; the penalty for their entrance is dissipation.

 

But, why is such strong void energy scattered here?

 

Julian furrows his eyebrows, continuing onwards. Ordinarily, only wizards emanated such auras after death. Does that mean that a wizard had died in his castle? If so, how come the wandering souls had never found out about it?

 

The shadows in the narrow corridor darken, stifling even the firelight from the torch. Even as he turns a corner, the killing intent from the malevolent spirit becomes more evident; almost no verification is needed for him to find the source.

 

It is a well.

 

A place that was originally inaccessible behind dungeon walls, but the latter had recently crumbled due to the pa.s.sage of time, causing the aspect within to seep out. The well-water had dried up long ago, revealing walls of bare stone. Julian jumps down, turns his head, and easily finds his target.

 

A corpse. Or rather, something that had been a corpse.

 

Weathered by time, its former clothes had become tattered beyond recognition; the white bones within were also buried, for the most part, beneath the ochre soil. s.h.i.+fting the torch to illuminate the body before him, Julian glances upwards and around.

 

Under the firelight, a number of anguished scratch marks are revealed upon the wall.

 

Because of considerations on pressure and permeability, the stone used in the construction of a well was entirely high-quality quarry; even a sword would be hard-pressed to make a mark on the material. Additionally, though the well was dried up, the moisture and algae left behind nevertheless gives the stone a smoothened appearance. To have scratch marks that remained under these circ.u.mstances shows their profound will to live.

 

But, despite their exertions, fate had not given them a lifeline. Such is its nature. Regardless of effort, the goals of some will go unachieved … the result does not differ even with the ultimate sacrifice.

 

Julian crouches in an attempt to clean out the carca.s.s. The malevolent spirit was, as of yet, still hidden, but he had his own plans in that regard.

 

The instant he squats down, a chilling, relentless wave of energy erupts from behind him, putting out the already-stifled torch.

 

 

 

[1], [2]: Some digging was required to unearth this supposedly medieval distinction. Tenants-in-chief held land directly from the king, while feoffees were entrusted with parcels from a lord. However I am not sure that the distinction was so stark as the author is making it out to be here, since in many places tenants-in-chief were also said to be feoffees. Well, I did my best. For further reading, consider this, this, and maybe Wikipedia. I could do better research, but I really don't want to.

 

[3]: Astute readers will note that this specific figure is a little questionable. Precious metals are uncommon, and taxation from the peasantry was more often in food and fungibles, not such a large sum of gold pieces alone.

 

[4]: It was hard to pa.r.s.e for me what the author meant here. I have attempted thus to render the sentence as accurately as I could, so you can try to figure it out.

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Knight of Demise Chapter 4 summary

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