With her appreciating her personal space, the top third of the Deepblue belonged to Sharon and Sharon alone, closed off to everyone else… Technically that wasn’t true— the security golems that were around level 15 warriors in strength would attack you as long as you weren’t recognised, but if you got through them you could enter the place; and all you had to face after that was a dozen grand mages, and then Sharon herself. Then you’d be free to move in these top floors however you want. All theoretically speaking, that is.
Intermittent shrieks reverberated in Sharon’s personal area, blood-curdling screams that resonated within the dark grey corridor to induce goosebumps. Those who knew what was going on would have an entirely different reaction.
Minnie appeared at the end of the corridor with quick steps. It was evident from her hurried pace, pursed lips, furrowed brows, and shivering body that she was prepared to run from this place at any time— that she wasn’t exactly fond of this gloomy corridor. That was understandable— after all she was still considerably young— but the dark and damp theme of this sinister place had been decided by the mighty Sharon herself, and she could never go wrong. Nobody dared raise any opinions against the setup of these floors.
More indistinct screeches sounded from the corridor, and this time Minnie recognised the owner of the voice. She smirked and spat at the ground, reaching the end of the jail region which had a dozen cells of various sizes and functions. The region was more than a thousand square metres in area, and Randolph was tied to a rack at a cell in the centre. His limbs had been stretched out, his clothes ripped apart as a half-naked jailor brandished his 5-metre-long whip on his back mercilessly.
The dark-skinned man’s tight muscles had a sheen of grease, making him look sickening. His shorts were ripped at the sides, stained with large blotches of muddy brown— probably dried blood from people or animals.
If one neglected the brutality of the situation, they would notice the jailor’s extreme skill with his instrument. The long whip howled and weaved through the air as it repeatedly struck Randolph’s tender butt, leaving red hot scars in its wake. The skin wasn’t being torn apart; the damage was enough to be torturous but not lasting. Standing four metres away, the jailor even distributed his attacks. Almost every part of Randolph’s butt was covered, and still even where the marks crossed each other the skin remained intact. From afar it looked like an abstract, bestial art; a mishmash of colours and lines with an inexplicable beauty that was near perfection. The jailor probably counted as someone very strong.
Randolph’s butt was swollen, and there was a mixture of tears mucus and saliva on his once-handsome face. As an outstanding mage coming from a family of aristocrats he had a high degree of bravery and endurance, but the punishments in this region were designed for tougher races like hellspawn, abyssal devils, lesser dragons, mix-blooded beastmen and grey dwarves. Humans, especially the ones who weren’t as strong physically, were as easy to finish up with as a bowl of water. Take this jailor, for example— the simplest of whips and Randolph was already on the verge of collapse. The cell had sixteen different tools of torture, and he could use a full nine.
Randolph was cramped after the whipping, but even though he trembled he could not faint. The excruciating pain came in huge waves with no zenith or nadir, just a continual invasive pain that stabbed at his consciousness. He felt like he would die the very next moment.
The most humiliating part was the fact that all his injuries were in the area Minnie had reminded him to take care of— his buttocks. It almost drove him insane, but thankfully for his strong will he didn’t collapse until the very last minute. Still, he’d lost all strength by the end of the punishment, unable to even feel the insult anymore. The worst was already done, and all he wished for now was for this matter to stay out of the public eye, especially Sharon’s. Such a thing could jeopardise his position as her apprentice.
He shivered at the thought. If he got kicked out of the Deepblue… He couldn’t even bring himself to think of a life after that. Not everyone could handle being dropped to the ground from such heights, and through the course of these events Randolph had realised that it was his family background and his identity as Sharon’s apprentice that was what made him special, not his talent or appearance. And in that moment, fear and regret swallowed him whole. So much so that he forgot to curse Minnie’s butt.
A dark-skinned slave was bowed down in one of Sharon’s favourite lounges, a huge pot made of gold on his back with various fruits within. Some of the fruit was plump and alluring while some more was twisted and with bizarre colours, but whatever these things were the pot had everything. Many of these fruits weren’t even in season, and some were produced from other planes. In a raised crystal glass at the centre were some prized fruits that were normally guarded by powerful beasts. The half ton of fruits served perfectly as Sharon’s snack for the day.
The man moved forward with heavy steps, following the pebble path that lead through the forest with big trees. He passed a vast plain to come before a lake with tables and chairs set up beside it, the furniture simple and pure unlike the glamorous pot yet giving off an aura of coziness at first sight.
Sharon was lazing on a couch, sending fruits into her mouth from a similar golden pot that was almost empty beside her. The slave replaced the old pot with the new one before returning. Although this was a lounge, it still occupied more than a thousand square metres and had its own ecology and heating systems that made it like a comfortable mountain forest.
A few grand mages were surrounding Sharon’s couch, reporting about important matters. They took turns by status, most of the information being about financial affairs, Randolph, and Richard.
One of them was reporting on the winter finances of the Deepblue. Before he could finish that quick and simple report, a cherry that was supposed to be on its way to Sharon’s mouth stopped itself in mid-air. Her intense gaze landed on said grand mage, a massive threat radiating from her that instantly caused everyone present to wobble a little. “What? We made a loss last season?”
The person in charge of finances was different from everyone else. He was a grey dwarf, a supposed nemesis of the human race. Few of his species had any magic talent at all, so they didn’t have many grand mages. On the other hand, their meticulous nature with money made them very capable with finance.
The dwarf lowered his head and bowed immediately, avoiding eye contact with Sharon as he answered carefully, “Yes, but it was only about 60,000 coins.”
But Sharon cut him off, “That’s still a loss! I remember I robbed a handful of giant dragons in the middle of last year, and some of that went into managing the Deepblue. How could you still make a loss? Did you investigate?”
“I found the cause, but…” The dwarf hummed and hawed, not daring to speak up.
“Continue!” Sharon raised her voice again.
Eventually, he ground his teeth and forced the words out, “You’ve been in a good mood lately, master…”
The cherry continued into the abyss that was Sharon’s mouth when she heard these words. The legendary mage furrowed her pretty brows, brooding over the matter before replying, “Well, I think I’ll be in better mood in the coming days so let’s put that aside for now. Is there anything else?”
A human mage stepped forward, “We’ve already punished Randolph as per your orders, Master. How should we take things forward?”
“What do you suggest?” Sharon asked lazily as she toyed with an aquatic fruit in her hand in disinterest.
The man replied, “His aptitude isn’t too bad, and he was evaluated as outstanding in the tests. Moreover he’s the son of Duke Solam of the Sacred Tree Empire, and Master Klaus even confirmed his aptitude as a runemaster. I suggest we keep his position.”
The legendary mage scoffed, “Klaus dares to call himself a master? I hear he added ‘Saint’ before his name? Bah, since when has that piece of old garbage ever been right about people? We already have a great future runemaster in the Deepblue; discard the trash before we waste more of our resources on him. We already made enough losses last season… Here’s what, send Randolph according to our original plan.”
“But he’s still the son of Duke Solam…” The human mage reminded. Even in the Sacred Tree Empire, where powerful beings were everywhere, Duke Solam was someone with great influence. He was known as the Dragonslayer, Demonslayer, and Hellslayer, having acquired such titles despite being one step away from becoming a legendary being. He wouldn’t necessarily lose an open war with Sharon.
Sharon waved her hand dismissively and cut him off. “The boy is Solam’s son, but he’s not the only one. I’m sure the other eleven wives will help us, and I remember two of his other children were good enough not to embarass me. Give them this slot as long as Solam will contribute half of his original sponsorship.”
“That’s enough to stop the losses, right?” Sharon turned to the grey dwarf with great expectations.
The man made some quick calculations, but he only frowned, “It can only secure us for spring. You said your mood will only grow better.”
Sharon grew serious, searching around the pot of fruit but not finding anything for a long while. She remained conflicted for a while, eventually speaking out, “My mood… I can’t control that, what do we do now? Even the dragons are poor after I visited them last year, so I won’t be able to find anything even if I go again. And they’re even moving further and further away, becoming difficult to find…”
The dwarf suggested with wariness, “Why not… add another apprentice who pays for themselves?”
An older mage interjected before Sharon could react, “That won’t do! How noble is it to be apprenticed to Her Excellency Sharon herself? How could you just sell that spot away? One might be fine, but more? Apprentices who don’t have the ability to hold up their status will seriously damage the reputations of the Deepblue and Her Excellency!”
“Worry about the losses before you worry about reputation! Even after this every genius will fight for a spot as Her Excellency’s apprentice, regardless of whether they pay or not. Do you want the most beautiful Master to stop being delighted? She has an apprentice that will become a runemaster in the future now, everyone else pales in comparison!”
By that point the dwarf had started to shout. Sharon waved her hand to silence him, causing the two mages to wait on her words as she loitered between loss of finances and reputation. It took a while for her to make a painful decision, “Let’s add another self-paying apprentice.”
To distract herself she quickly changed the topic to Richard. “Now, let’s look at what our future saint runemaster has been up to.” The financial stress had immediately brought Richard’s prospects up to becoming a saint runemaster.