456 There’s Something Wrong with the Iron Duke

 Chapter 456: There's Something Wrong with the Iron Duke

Translator: Nyoi-Bo Studio Editor: Nyoi-Bo Studio

Skinorse had dressed himself up so extravagantly that anyone else would have a hard time recognizing him. Link figured that he had something important to talk about.

Link calmly flicked a finger at Skinorse, sending a speck of light flying towards him.

Traceless Invisibility.

Skinorse instantly vanished on the spot.

Link gestured at him to enter into the magic tower with him. He could sense the light stirring of air as Skinorse followed him from behind.

The number of students on the first floor of the Mage Tower had increased to around eighty. As soon as he stepped through the door, the students noticed him immediately, and everyone stood at attention before him in a flurry.

Before, Link had not been used to such courteous treatment; now, he did not mind it as much. He greeted the young students with a wave of his hand before striding off towards the higher levels of the Mage Tower.

When they finally reached the attic at the top of the tower, Link snapped his fingers, removing the invisibility spell from Skinorse's body.

The attic was cluttered with all kinds of everyday objects. Leaning on something wrapped in fur, Link waited until Skinorse had entered the room, then proceeded to cast a soundproof spell on the door.

"All right, you can talk."

Skinorse handed a Memory Crystal to Link. "Lord Link, you'd better take a look at this."

Link took the crystal from him. Upon activating it, an indistinct image was projected into the air. From the low angle the image was taken at, it was evident that the user of the Memory Crystal was exercising great caution while using it in a crowded area.

The backs of a group of soldiers could be seen in the image. Then, a voice spoke out. "This Magician was practising black magic. When he was found out, not only did he refuse to make public the contents of his magic, he even assaulted the investigators, severely injuring two warriors in the process. He must be an agent of the dark forces!"

As soon as he finished speaking, there was a terrible thud. Though the image did not show what had made the sound, Link was familiar enough with it to know that someone had been decapitated.

"That voice, was it Duke Abel?"

"Yes, it was him."

In the image, when the deed was done, the surrounding soldiers began to scatter from the place. The Magician who had been hiding in the crowd gave the execution grounds one last sweep with the Memory Crystal before putting it away.

At this point, Link paused the image.

On the execution ground lay four headless corpses, which meant that three other people had been executed before the Magician. Duke Abel and a few other generals sat on a high bench in the distance, stern expressions on their faces.

Looking at this, Link deactivated the Memory Crystal and told Skinorse, "The army was handing out executions to those guilty of insubordination. I don't think that's important enough to bring it to me."

The voice from the Memory Crystal had already stated the reasons for the execution clearly: illegal practice of black magic and assault on one's fellow officers. After the Orida Fortress' confrontation with the Dark Army, they had been on high alert for any sign of black magic. What this Magician did was no different from suicide.

Skinorse nodded. "Purely based on what you've seen from the image, it may seem normal. But I feel that the duke himself has been a bit aggressive as of late."

"What do you mean?" Link knew that Skinorse would not have come to him with just a hunch; he must have had concrete evidence with him.

Skinorse gazed out the window. After the confrontation in the north, his handsome face had wizened a great deal, and there were a few more tufts of white hair growing out of his temples. He frowned and said in a gravelly voice, "Not long after you left, the duke began a purge of the army through a special unit that was tasked with carrying out investigations on every warrior, including their backgrounds. As for Magicians, they were required to make public the findings of their research on magic. This doesn't seem like much at first thought, but after a month into the operation, they began taking a more excessive approach, to the point that there was no turning back."

Skinorse turned to look at Link. "I once saw an officer who was hung on the gallows just because he had a demon fang in his possession. There was even a warrior who thought it would be fun to carve a wooden statue of a succubus and was then beheaded for it. The Magician that was executed in the image, the 'black magic' that he was practicing was a Level-4 Eye of the Soul spell, a practically harmless detection spell, and the reason he assaulted those warriors was because they had torn up his research in front of him. It's as if the duke has already gone off the deep end. He's basically mad at this point."

Link furrowed his brows at this. This did indeed seem a bit excessive. He asked, "Has anyone approached him about this?"

"The dean of the East Cove Magic Academy went over to exchange words with him, but they still parted with ill will. The duke remained quiet for a few days, but resumed his inquisition not long after."

"Does King Leon know about this?" asked Link.

"Yes, he does. The king has written a few letters to him, but you know, after the destruction of Hot Spring City, the king's authority has been at an all-time low.The duke didn't seem too concerned about him," Skinorse replied.

Finally, Link asked, "Barring all those things, how is Duke Abel faring in the affairs of defense lately?"

"Though far more aggressive than before, he has also been very productive in that regard. More than thirty demons are being exterminated every day in the Black Forest. At first, we were even killing more than 100 Dark Elves almost every day; now, we can't even find a single Dark Elf within the area 200 miles north of Orida Fortress. There was also one time Kanorse slayed a Level-8 demon. He was then greatly rewarded by the duke and made leader of the first legion."

All this was truth. Skinorse reported all that he had witnessed to Link without any omission.

"I see." Link fell silent.

To normal people like Skinorse, what Duke Abel had done may have seemed cruel and excessive, but in Link's eyes, the duke had simply been fulfilling his duties, no more, no less.

Duke Abel's primary task had been to defend the fortress from the demons and Dark Elves of the Black Forest. He should not have been reprimanded for doing so well.

More importantly, Link was only a lord of Ferde. These matters had nothing to do with him.

It was also pointless for him to write a letter to the duke or meet him personally at this point, since King Leon and Master Magician Anthony had already done both those things, but to no avail. Any further action from him would probably elicit anger from the duke, maybe even backfiring on Link himself.

However, this was something he could not ignore. Duke Abel may have been traumatised by the great war, and given the current circumstances, he may not have been of sound mind, which was not a good thing.

After thinking about it for a while, Link decided that the wisest course of action for now was to simply wait and see.

He took out a piece of Thorium and a Black Kun rock and began casting an enchantment on both of them. Around ten minutes later, he was able to forge a rune stone out of both materials, then infused his Dragon Power into it. Link handed the rune stone to Skinorse. "This is something I don't think I'm able to intervene in freely. Take the rune stone back north and continue your observations. Report back to me if there are any new advancements. If you find yourself in danger, activate this rune stone to cast a one-time 2,000-feet teleportation spell."

Skinorse accepted the runestone and opened his mouth as if to say something before closing it again.

"Is there something on your mind?"

Skinorse let out a sigh. "As a matter of fact, I do not plan on going back this time. Now that the Divine Gear is gone, and the Dark Elves have been defeated, I do not feel like staying in the army any longer. Things have become too oppressive. I'm only here to bring you this message, then I'll be off to do my own adventuring across the continent."

Link was rendered speechless. "So you're a deserter?"

This fellow sure was cunning, to have the nerve to leave out such an important piece of information and abscond after receiving a rune stone from him!

Skinorse became apprehensive. "You won't force me back to the fortress, will you?"

Decapitation was the fate that awaited all deserters.

Link shook his head. "I won't. Since you won't be going back, I'll just have to send for someone else to continue observing things in the north... You said something about going off on an adventure?"

"Yes, it's what I've always dreamed of." As soon as he said those words, Skinorse's face lit up in excitement.

A bit startled by this, Link asked, "Oh, I remember the first time you came to me, you were saying something about looking for the tomb of some late dwarf king. What happened to your other companions?"

"They didn't fare too well. The priestess is still alive, though the others fell in battle. Truth be told, she's coming with me down south. How about it, do you still want to come along with us?"

Link was now a Legendary master. Why would he lower himself to robbing graves with him?

Link shook his head, smiling. "No, I can't. I'm still busy with the affairs of Ferde. But if you're going, I do have a few things I would like you to find for me. You'll be handsomely compensated for your troubles."

Skinorse's eyes lit up. "I don't want money, I deal only in magical equipment! I'll steal even the Red Dragon Queen's underwear for you if you're able to give me some magical gear in exchange!"

"..." Link's face went blank at this, finding it difficult to believe what he was hearing. What would he need the queen's underwear for anyway? The man had changed into an entirely different person upon announcing he was deserting the army.

Link took out a piece of Jogu and gave it to him. "I want a stone like this one. Find as much as you can in your travels. Also, you may come across some members of the dragon race who are searching for the same kind of stone in your path. Just show this to them, and they'll let you have the stone."

Link then gave Skinorse a piece of silver-black dragon scale, which would serve as proof of his identity among the dragon race.

"I understand." Skinorse toyed with the scale a little, curious about its composition.

"As for your reward, if you're able to give me a hundred Jogus, I'll forge you a piece of Legendary equipment of your own choosing."

Skinorse was already nodding furiously before Link had even finished. "What about a Legendary dagger? Whatever, I'll do it. Er, what about my priestess friend?"

"She will be rewarded as well. You just bring her here, and she'll receive a piece of magical equipment from me, too."

"That won't be a problem. I'll hold onto this scale and bring back 101 Jogus for you before you know it."

"Bring as much as you can. Remember, 100 Jogus for one piece of magical gear."

Skinorse heaved a long sigh. "Oh, you really know how to work someone to the bone."

When all was said and done, Skinorse realized that he had not a single gold coin on him, what with being a thief who didn't steal for gold. He then put aside all sense of shame and asked for a bag of gold coins before leaving the room with an air of satisfaction.

Link returned to his quarters and rested for a bit. It wasn't long before Lucy barged into the room.

"My lord, our anti-magic soil mines have been dug empty, and the city hall is almost out of money."

Lucy spread an account book out in front of Link, who saw that everything was in red. They had been running a deficit for a long while.