Hardcore: Qi Worlds

Chapter 98

Chapter 98: Captive 6

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It was early, in what passed for the morning, in the underground Myrkalfar grotto. The Azrul Ludus were being fed a mixture of nutrient-rich algae and lizard meat. Of all slaves only the Gladiators were afforded such luxuries, their peak physical condition and value were enhanced by a good diet.

Fury, the new prime, sat alone awaiting one of his worshippers to serve him.

He had been with them for almost a month, and while at first he kept to himself and all left him alone, he had changed as time went by. The special training he received from Genoci, and his quartet of partners was not to blame for the change, Mordecai was certain.

It was the fact that Fury received nightly visits from the Dread Lord’s toxic apprentice, Phee.

 Mordecai the old prime was positive that Fury healed him on his first night at the Ludus. Slowly but surely after this first night, he changed. Whether it was his true nature coming through or the influence of Phee; Fury had become a monster.

It started during the second week when someone was ahead of him in line for the morning meal. Fury took exception to having to wait in line and proceeded to smash the trainee’s skull into the wall. That trainee either died or was sent to the pits, he never returned to the Ludus.

What made matters worse were, that was a whipping offence at least, slaves were valuable, and only mistresses were permitted to damage property. Certainly, other slaves were not. Fury was not punished. He was not even reprimanded. This sent a message to all Gladiators and trainees, Fury could kill you, and no one would care.

Mordecai was afraid of the beast, he became crueller with each day that passed. During most practice spars, Fury would take pleasure in injuring his partners. At first, he used to pull his blows, now he adjusted them for maximum pain.

Scintilla, the werepanther, a beast herself worshipped him. She doted on him, even if he beat her she seemed to like it. She now fetched his meal to the table, serving him like he was a lord. She was not permitted to sit at the table with him however, no one was.

Mordecai had the distinct feeling that even Genoci was also afraid of the man, he no longer met his gaze. The only person, other than Scintilla who worshipped him, who seemed enamoured with Fury’s increasingly brutal behaviour was Phee.

Why Genoci had not stopped Phee’s nightly visits to the Gladiator was beyond Mordecai.

There was nothing to be done. Fury was untouchable, and even if he wasn’t, he was more than capable of defending himself. Mordecai could only pray that he would either be sold or die in the upcoming arena battles. If the battles of House Ileum did not kill him, the Val’Tien was certainly next level dangerous.

 “Azrul, Dread Lord of the Tendulkar Clan,” the messenger announced formally, “Daughter Scydhel of the House Val’Sharah requests an audience. Her portal master stands ready to convey you to her palace.”

“Now?” Azrul replied, caught off-guard.

“Yes, now. I have an anchor attached to my person,” the messenger replied.

“Will you wait here for my return?” Azrul asked.

“If there is a need, yes,” the messenger answered.

“Very well, I agree with an audience immediately on the condition I am returned here unharmed, no matter the outcome at a time of my choosing,” Azrul requested.

The messenger touched an intricate tattoo on his abdomen, his eyes fluttered as he communicated her request. Azrul was jealous, this was the sort of setup she desired, a competent sealer and portal master.

“The message has been sent,” the messenger informed her as if it wasn’t obvious. The message bubble would take time to arrive, contemplated and an answer returned.

“Shall we wait in my great hall?” she asked, attempting to be polite with a mere messenger, only because he represented a Daughter.

After sitting staring at a mere messenger for half an eternity, a portal opened. The messenger nodded for Azrul to enter.

It was not wise to walk through an unknown portal without precautions, but Azrul had grown tired of waiting, she had been waiting to find information, she had been waiting to engage serious bidders, and she had been waiting since meeting the messenger for far too long.

The Dread Lord walked through the portal.

The chamber in to which she entered was a typical Royal Throneroom. This was no mere meeting room and to open a portal from such a heavily warded location would be impossible without the Queen and the Royal Portal master.

Standing next to the Throne was the Daughter presumably. Her mother, the Queen, was seated, but now she stood also.

“I do expect all this effort will be worth it Daughter,” she said before leaving the Throneroom. She did not even deign to look at Azrul or register her presence in any way. Which was fine with Azrul, she was a mere Dread Lord, she expected as much from the Queen of one of the most powerful Houses in the Myrkaflar empire.

Jade adorned the walls of the Throneroom, while emeralds were the preference of the Royal House of Val’Sharah they adorned the throne alone. The floors were a dark grey marble with intricate patterns carved into the surface. Azrul chuckled to herself, imagining blood flowing through all those fine grooves, it would be a bitch to clean.

Scydhel herself allowed her long white hair to simply drape over her shoulders and down her back. Her adopted colour and gemstone was a tourqoise, she glowed a green-blue colour through her dress and her tattoos.

Similar to most pure blood Royals her eyes were white, not red like Azrul’s, which was a sure sign of the Dread Lords inferior lineage. The only Myrkalfar that Azrul knew who had white eyes and wasn’t a Royal was Fain, the leader of the scholarly coterie who had so efficiently suppressed her captive without removing his abilities or negatively damaging him.

After a herald had spouted introductions with nonsense titles for twenty heartbeats Scydhel spoke.

“A little cave rat has brought back word to me that you are in possession of the one I seek,” Scydhel said. It wasn’t a question it was a statement. She paused waiting for a response from the Dread Lord.

“The Benzhi?” Azrul asked innocently.

“He is called Benzhi by his allies, it is not a title,” Scydhel stated, “and yes this is the one I seek.”

Azrul had to be careful, she wanted to know why Scydhel sought him, was it the qi healing, that was the only ability which really stood out. Other than being a brutally efficient warrior, she had no idea of the captive’s affinity or special abilities which the Daughter could be interested in.

It would make sense for the Royals to pursue a bloodline which contained a powerful or strong affinity to merge it into theirs. Or one who possessed multiple affinities. Especially if it were male, it would be able to service all the females in the royal line in a week. And if extremely valuable, the Queen and her Daughter daily until they were with child.

“A recent raid onto one of the higher planes yielded fruits, one of which could be this Benzhi whom you speak,” the Dread Lord would not attempt to hide she had the captive, but she would play coy trying to gather information. The purchase the slave right now would require an exorbitant amount, as she had not ascertained his true value.

“I would need to inspect him to ensure it is the one I seek,” Scydhel said. She was certainly getting ahead of herself, Azrul thought.

“Ah, yes there will be opportunities for that, I plan to fight him in the Ileum games and if he is the champion then the Val’Tien,” Azrul announced without fanfare.

“That is…,” she paused for a few moments, “unfortunate.” Scydhel was unreadable.

Azrul waited, there was nothing else to discuss unless Scydhel wanted to pursue the matter further and there was no point asking point blank for her reasons for chasing the exotic warrior.

“I understand you defeated the subject in combat,” Scydhel became chatty all of a sudden. Of course, he was defeated, how else did he become her prisoner.

“Yes, it was a glorious battle. They possessed two aura wielders, one of which was quite troublesome,” Azrul replied, “the Benzhi equipped himself quite well. With training, he will do well in the arena.”

“It is a pity, I was remiss that I did not take possession when I had the chance,” Scydhel said.

“If he is so valuable, why did you not?” Azrul questioned.

Scydhel merely stared blankly, probably deciding how much to say, “at the time I did not know what I know now. Which is probably the position you find yourself in.”

Azrul was frustrated, but not surprised that Scydhel had perceived so much from a few words.

“We should be open with one another and see if there is a deal that can be struck,” Azrul petitioned. “If you tell me why you want him and meet my price, I will sell him to you now with only one extra condition.”

Scydhel pondered the offer.

“Tell me the price and the condition,” the Daughter instructed.

“Ah, I cannot say the price without knowing the reason you desire him so much. But the condition is you allow him to fight in the Val’Tien and give him every chance of winning,” Azrul replied.

Scydhel laughed, it was a melodic sound which echoed throughout the Throneroom. If Azrul were so inclined, she would have been entranced by it. But today, she was focused on building her own empire.

“I had heard about your wagers,” Scydhel answered, “you are looking to retain the chance of capturing the winnings.”

“It does not matter who owns him. The wager is on the Gladiator Fury being victorious,” Azrul replied.

Scydhel tilted her head to the side, she was considering the offer. “You have me at a disadvantage, I will accept your deal. I will give you the information you request, and if I meet your price, he will be sold to me with your condition.”

Azrul nodded.

They both sent out qi bubbles confirming their agreement. An affirmation which could be used in mundane negotiations if either party were to renege. It would also lead to a severe loss of face due to the involvement of a Daughter of one of the most powerful Royal Houses.

“It is my place to offer first,” Scydhel the Daughter of Val’Sharan said formerly.

“There is a possibility that Benzhi of the QWP and Earth has an affinity to qi. This has not been confirmed,” Scydhel stated flatly as if it were nothing. But the connotations, if it were true, were astounding.

Azrul collected herself. This did indeed exceed her expectations and in hindsight the memory wipe, while it helped control him, was a mistake. It did not allow her to get more information from the slave himself. And it could possibly backfire on her if he was deemed to be the second coming of the Qi Sage. They would kill her, no one would protect her if fervour got out of hand.

Another mistake was not asking the coterie to test his affinities, it would not have worked with an unwilling participant, but he was more than agreeable at the moment.

She had no time to castigate herself. With this sort of statement, there was no way Scydhel was lying unless she actually knew it to be true. Who would claim such a thing, increasing his cost astronomically?

Azrul had to decide whether to ask for a price so high, Scydhel would never meet it, or ask for the highest she thought a Royal house would pay for someone who may have an affinity to qi. They would breed him like an up world rabbit.

Oh hell, she should have had him impregnate her, the offspring could have been powerful.

Scydhel was starting to get impatient, she made small noises to indicate as much.

“In view of the information and our agreement, I will set the price at three thousand qi kernels,” Azrul said. There was no way anyone would pay that much, it was three times her long odds betting result. In Azrul’s opinion, Scydhel could easily win an auction at half that amount.

No one would say she did not honour her word. Azrul smiled to herself. She would have the opportunity to have the Gladiator father children with herself and other members of her clan. If indeed the information was true regarding his affinity to qi. This bloodline was more valuable than any in existence. It was unheard of.

“Agreed,” Scydhel stated.

“What?” Azrul said.

“I agree to the amount three thousand qi kernels,” Scydhel said again.

“How…do…are you sure?” Azrul flummoxed.

“I expect immediate delivery with no further damage done to my property, your three thousand kernels will arrive into your great hall in moments. I will be sending one of my Knights with you to ensure no unfortunate events occur,” Scydhel announced like she was a regular slave trader doing her daily business.

A portal opened behind Azrul. She had to shake herself awake. It was a miscalculation on her part, did she undervalue what the slave was worth? Could he possibly be worth more than three thousand? It was impossible, all her possessions if sold at maximum value were worth less than five hundred, and that was including her castle.

True to her word, one of her Knights and thirty bags of one hundred qi kernels arrived through the portal following Azrul. The Royal Seneschal herself was overseeing the delivery and trying to arrange a counterpart to partake in the count of the payment.

The Knight stood behind her, waiting patiently, he was no ordinary knight. Azrul recognised him as Ghehena who won the Val’Tien six years ago. In fact, he was not a Knight, Scydhel was not true to her word. He was a Myrk Paladin.

It was evening, and the Gladiators were in their cells. Azrul lead Ghehena all the way down to the cell which contained Fury.

“He goes by Fury, he has been training as one of my Gladiators for the past month,” Azrul said. They walked further. Ghehena making no indication he heard her.

“We wiped his memory to stop him attempting to escape, you will find him otherwise unharmed,” Azrul mentioned. She did not have to explain what she did to her slaves, and the price was already set. But, she did not want the Royals of Val’Sharan becoming upset with her and their deal either. It was their bargain, and they purchased the slave sight unseen.

They must have been sure of their facts. Azrul swore, Scydhel had lied, she must have been sure of his affinity.

Azrul swept by Genoci’s quarters, “we will need Fury’s cell opened, he has been sold,” she told the scampering Gladiator trainer.

He tried to not let his disappointment show, he was probably looking forward to the games and the prestige that would come the way of the Ludus if Fury had won.

Genoci grabbed his master keys and led the way.

Before arriving at the cell they could hear screams, a woman was screaming.

“Is that from his cell?” Azrul enquired.

Genoci nodded.

“How? Wait, nevermind we will deal with this later, give me the keys,” she ordered.

Genoci watched as the Dread Lord entered the cell, a small smile on his lips, he would not need to report Phee, she was about to be caught red-handed. Not that what she was doing was out of line for a Myrkalfar noble, but these were not her slaves, and the owner may not take a liking to them being mistreated.

Genoci heard the Dread Lord yell, “finish her, we must leave now and do not have time for games.” And he hoped the meaning of finish her was directed at Phee and not his werepanther.

The Dread Lord left the cell, “go fetch his sword and shield,” she ordered Genoci. Probably in order to buy some time.

She turned to face the Myrk Paladin, “he also has some leathers, they will be needed for the Val’Tien.”

The Myrk Paladin merely stood, oblivious to anything she said, he stared at the cell door, perhaps contemplating retrieving the slave himself.

Azrul looked at the Myrk Paladin, “wait here, he will be out shortly, I will fetch the leathers.”

If the Myrk Paladin thought that a Dread Lord going to fetch a slave's leathers in her own castle was strange, he did not show it.

Scydhel waited for what seemed like an eternity for Ghehena to return with her prize. They had searched the breadth of the planes and spent a fortune to procure this man. He stepped through the portal, holding runed leathers in his hand. He looked different, changed. But it was him, the qi core, the circulation if anything much more impressive than their last meeting.

His aura-shield was erected in moments, and it was a thing of beauty. The rumours were true, this much improvement in such a short time, he must be the second qi sage.

“Ah, Benzhi, you have kept me waiting so long, you could have dressed for me at least,” Scydhel said sweetly waving a hand at his naked form, the only covering were the leathers in his hand.

“My name is Fury bitch, and for all I care you can wait all night” Fury responded.

Ghehena had to use his vast willpower to make no sound. He was certain Scydhel had never, in her hundred plus years of life, been spoken to like that, not even her mother the Queen would speak to her with such little respect.

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