Paragon Of Destruction 79 Judgmen

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As Arran waited for the group to reach them, his only comfort was that there was no immediate attack.

But then, he realized that there was no reason for them to attack straight away. Even if the woman was completely powerless — something he strongly doubted — the novices were strong enough to not need surprise attacks against Darkfire and himself.

With some luck, he would be able to take one of them in a fair fight. If Darkfire managed to keep another busy long enough for Arran to finish the first, perhaps they could barely defeat two of the novices — and even that would require a great deal of luck.

But now, there were five Shadowblood novices before them, not counting the crippled one. There simply was no amount of luck that would allow them to overcome those odds.

They waited in silence, neither Darkfire nor Arran feeling the need to speak. Whatever was going to happen, they would have to face, and there was no amount of talking that could change that.

As the group approached, Arran got a better look at the woman in front.

She was tall, with long dark hair and black eyes. There was something wild and domineering about her appearance, as if she was longing for battle, and there was an ageless quality to her face, making it impossible to tell just how old she was.

"s.h.i.+t!" Darkfire hissed quietly. "This is bad…"

"Unhappy to see me, Darkfire?" the woman called out.

"Elder Batu," he said, bowing deeply. "We're honored at your company, of course, although the two of us hardly seem worthy of your attention."

As Darkfire finished speaking, the woman came to a stop a few paces away from them. She gave Darkfire a derisive sneer, then spoke, "You think charm will solve your problems?"

"It was worth a try," Darkfire said with a shrug. "Better than calling you a terrifying monster, I'd think."

Elder Batu let out a shrill laugh. "I do appreciate honesty," she said. Then, she turned to Arran. "This is the one who crippled my nephew?"

"That's him, Elder," one of the novices behind her said, his voice gratingly sycophantic.

"What's your name?" she asked, looking Arran up and down as if he was a piece of cattle.

"Ghostblade." There was little point in trying to resist her questions, but he would not resort to groveling — mostly because he doubted it would help.

"You crippled my nephew," she said, staring at him intently. "What do you have to say for yourself?"

"He tried to kill me," Arran replied. "All I did was defend myself."

"If you were just defending yourself, why did you choose to cripple him?" There was no anger on her face. Instead, she seemed genuinely curious about what his answer would be.

"He was stronger than me," Arran answered honestly. "It was the only way I could take him out of the fight."

She nodded, her expression one that could almost be mistaken for approval. Then, she turned toward the novices behind her.


"Now, which of you can tell me what happened?"

"I can, Elder." The one who spoke was a young woman with pouting lips and a face that would be pretty had it not been for a hint of cruelty in her eyes.

"Then what are you waiting for?" Elder Batu said. "Speak!"

"Novice Arban challenged the outsider to a friendly duel," the novice began hurriedly. "When the outsider was about to lose, he used an underhanded magic attack to gain the advantage, then crippled novice Arban before he could react."

Elder Batu gave the young woman a smile so cold it sent s.h.i.+vers down Arran's spine.

"Let's try that again," she said slowly. "And this time, if you tell even the slightest lie, I will burn those pretty eyes from your face."

The novice paled instantly, a fearful expression appearing on her face. "I didn't—" she began.

"Tell me the truth," Elder Batu interrupted her, "or suffer the consequences."

The young woman shot a panicked look at the other novices, but seeing that they would be no help, she sighed in resignation.

Once more she told the story, but this time, she told the truth, not even omitting the slightest detail.

"So that's what happened," Elder Batu said, her gaze resting on her nephew. "You wanted to kill the outsider to shame Darkfire, and when he defeated you, you tried to blindside him with a magic attack. And still, you lost. It seems my brother's blood runs strong in you."

The young man cried out in protest, but she ignored him, turning toward the other novices. Their faces, filled with arrogant confidence only minutes ago, were now fearful.

"All of you have shamed the Society. As penance, you will serve beyond the border for one decade, alone. Those who survive will be allowed to return."

The novices responded with looks of shock and horror, but none of them dared to speak against her — it was clear that Elder Batu was not in a merciful mood.

"Leave now," Elder Batu said. "If any of you delay in departing, or return early, your punishment will be death."

It only took a few moments before the novices were gone, leaving behind Arran and Darkfire, Elder Batu, and the crippled young man.

"Now, my nephew," Elder Batu said, her eyes cold, "you have shamed not only the Society, but also our family. And look at you now… useless. I could banish you for your actions, but then, a stain like this requires thorough cleaning."

She stretched her hand toward him with a calm gesture that nevertheless held great threat, and Arran nearly gasped in shock when he understood what was about to happen.

"You can't do this!" the young man cried out. Yet even as he finished the words, his eyes glazed over, his body slumping down from the horse a second later.

"And so dies my grandfather's name," Elder Batu said. She remained silent for a short while, looking at her nephew's corpse in disgust.

Finally, she turned her attention back to Arran.

"You must think me heartless," she said, her voice cold, without even the faintest trace of emotion.

Arran could certainly have agreed with that, though other terms came to mind as well — like 'murderous' or 'insane'. Yet he held his tongue, for fear of losing it.

"I'm just glad you didn't kill me," he finally said, understanding that she was waiting for an answer.

"War is coming," she responded. "And the Society needs fighters. Weak as you are, your victory over my nephew means you might be of some use yet."

Arran did not reply, simply nodding. Given the woman's terrifying behavior, he did not want to run even the slightest risk of offending her.

"I see you are wearing my grandfather's sword," she remarked with a look at his side.

Immediately, Arran unsheathed the sword, handing it hilt-first to Elder Batu. "You can have it," he said quickly. "Had I known it belonged to your family, I wouldn't have taken it."

"I don't want the cursed thing," she replied. "It was forged by my grandfather, then pa.s.sed down from my useless father to my useless brother, before falling into the hands of my useless nephew. Keep it, if you think it will bring you better luck."

Arran hesitated briefly, then sheathed the sword again. To him, a sword was just a tool, neither lucky nor unlucky. And as far as swords went, this was a particularly fine one.

"What happens now?" he asked.

"Now," she said, "you travel north. The other Shadowblood fools will undoubtedly figure out what happened, and when they do, this region will no longer be safe for you."

"You're telling us to join a different Valley?!" Darkfire had been quiet before, but now, he spoke in an astonished tone, a tremble of anxiety in his voice. "But what about…"

"I will inform your parents that you are safe," Elder Batu cut in. "They're the ones who asked me to come here in the first place."

"Then you were the one who was sent to help us?" Arran asked, puzzled at the sudden revelation.

"I was asked to deliver a fair judgment," she replied. "My fool nephew and his fool friends thought a few drops of shared blood would be enough to sway my decision. But between blood and the Society, there can be no choice." Turning to Darkfire, she added, "You would do well to remember that."

"So what should we do?" Darkfire asked, his brow furrowed in thought.

"Travel to one of the border cities near the Sixth Valley," Elder Batu said. "Then, get recruited. With your skills, that shouldn't be too hard a task — although I would suggest hiding your magical abilities for the time being."

"Should we use different names?" Arran asked, hoping for an excuse to finally get rid of the 'Ghostblade' moniker.

"Darkfire and Ghostblade?" She raised an eyebrow. "There are hundreds with those names in every Valley. I'd say your lack of imagination serves you well, in this case."

Arran let out a sigh. It seemed that for now, he was stuck with that ridiculous name.

"Unless you have any other questions, I shall leave now," Elder Batu announced.

Arran kept his mouth firmly shut. Whatever questions he had could wait until he found someone less frightening to ask.

Elder Batu wasted no time on goodbyes, instead simply turning around and walking off.

Both Arran and Darkfire stood in silence, until finally, Arran was certain she was gone.

"That," he said in a low voice, "is a terrifying woman."

"You don't know the half of it," Darkfire replied.

Paragon Of Destruction 79 Judgmen

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Paragon Of Destruction 79 Judgmen summary

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