Viscount Sirwa rode atop his horse gleefully. Thankfully, his zeno horse mount was strong enough to carry a person of his weight, which was easily double that of a normal person's.
Two silver-armored guards held a banner bearing a crest of a golden cup in their hands. It was the crest of House Sirwa. Beneath the golden cup was an intricate network of vines that circled around the cup to form a circular shape. A pure-white, seven-petaled flower could be seen all around the vines. They were the national flower of the Teribo Kingdom, the Turan Flower. The presence of that flower on a noble house's crest signified their close affiliation with the Teribo Kingdom's royal family.
The western wall garrison's soldiers got into formation to welcome Viscount Sirwa's escort after receiving instructions from their squad leader. The troupe was headed for Luxcrimson Winery, which was roughly 15 kilometers away from the city. The winery belonged to Viscount Sirwa, and was well-known for a century of fine wine produce. It was one of the main sources of income for the viscount.
Viscount Sirwa was in a rather good mood. Seeing Master Mancheny and his family leaving the city gates with glum expressions, the viscount couldn't help but crack into a smile. Hehe, so what if you're a glassmith? Did you think you could get away from the influence of a viscount like me? Did you think that you would be safe at the glass production plant? Hmph, even if a viscount like me can't enter it, I can still have them drive you out. You have no choice but to bring your daughter to me obediently.
That night, faced with Viscount Sirwa's underhanded request for his daughter's hand in marriage, Master Mancheny had no choice but to accept the request to let his daughter become the concubine of the viscount. However, he made three demands himself. First, he demanded that the viscount treat his daughter well in the future. Second, the viscount had to give an expensive betrothal gift. Lastly, their marriage ceremony should be carried out outside the city to attract as little attention as possible. Master Mancheny felt that having his daughter marry Viscount Sirwa was an incredibly embarrassing affair, so he wanted as few people to know about it as possible. If the viscount were to go fetch his bride with a whole parade, that would cause the glassmith and his wife to lose all ability to stand proudly amongst their neighbours.
That last demand was actually quite a reasonable one. Even though Viscount Sirwa was slightly displeased by it, he was no idiot and knew that his reputation was not a good one. There was little difference between a high and low profile marriage ceremony to him. Either way he would only be able to invite a few of his friends, friends that were just as bad as him. He decided to hold the ceremony at Luxcrimson Winery. It was one of his favorite spots outside the capital. It was relatively rural and quiet.
Viscount Sirwa and his 10 or so guards spent more than 2 hours completing the 15-kilometer journey. Luxcrimson Winery's gates were wide open, but Viscount Sirwa didn't really mind and dismounted when he arrived at the courtyard.
Usually, there would be a lot of servants coming up to him to serve him, tend to the horses, and bring some water or towels, or perhaps even tea. They would completely surround Viscount Sirwa. But for some reason, not a single soul showed up this time.
Angered, Viscount Sirwa yelled, "Where are they? Have they all died somewhere I don't know of? Why isn't there a single person here?! You two, go check where those lazy bums have gone!"
The two guards obeyed. They headed to the main hall, opened its doors, and entered, only to be flabbergasted. After a few moments, they snapped out of their stupor and returned. "Milord, look! They're all here..."
"Then why aren't you calling them to get their asses here to me?!" roared Viscount Sirwa as he headed towards the hall. The moment he arrived at the entrance, a gust of wind carrying a concentrated alcoholic smell wafted over the viscount. He fell to the ground dizzily.
When he entered the hall to take a look, he was stunned as well. Within it, many people could be seen sprawling across the floor. It was possible that everyone working at the winery was there, completely unconscious. They were so drunk they weren't even aware of what was happening. Empty barrels of wine could be seen all over the floor and tables. Some of the barrels still had crimson wine dripping from their openings.
"Hahaha..." The hodgepodge group of friends that had accompanied Viscount Sirwa to his wedding laughed so hard after looking at the scene that they had trouble stopping.
"Sirwa, that's too funny! So your servants actually party and drink when you're not around! Had it not been for the fact that you just decided to hold your marriage here yesterday and didn't send anyone to notify them of your arrival, you would never have found out about how they've been deceiving you the whole time! It seems that I have to carry out some random checks for my family's own winery as well... I wonder if those lowly servants dare to deceive me," said an oily-haired noble youth as he laughed.
"Ridiculous!" Viscount Sirwa was so mad that it seemed like smoke was billowing out of his orifices. It was obvious that he would become a laughingstock among the noble circle thanks to the disobedience of his servants. They dared to party when he wasn't around!
"I will definitely hang all of these pathetic dogs!"
As the viscount began to throw his fit, he waved the horsewhip in his hand and began striking his servants. It was a shame that all of them were dead drunk. Not a single one of them reacted to the whip as it crashed on their bodies. After lashing out a dozen times, the viscount was already out of energy and breath. His stocky body wasn't suited to strenuous activities.
The viscount raised his head, and saw the manager of the winery sitting on his golden-laced chair in the innermost corner of the hall -- the chair reserved for his personal use -- holding onto a large wine barrel.
Viscount Sirwa burst into rage again.
"Haul that pathetic wreck over here! How... How dare he sit on my chair?!"
Two of the guards walked towards the manager domineeringly. All the guards and the viscount's friends had already entered the hall. Even the two Silver ranked swordsmen watching over Master Mancheny went to check out the commotion.
All of a sudden, the two doors to the hall shut. The inside of the hall was plunged into utter, all-consuming darkness.
"Who... Who closed the doors?! Open it, quick!" roared the viscount.
The two nearest the doors stretched out their hands to open them, but after trying incredibly hard to do so, they stopped helplessly and said, "Someone has locked us in..."
"Who is it?! Who would play such a prank on me..." shouted the viscount as everyone else within the hall began to fall into disarray.
"Let's light a torch first. Did anyone bring a piece of flint?" someone asked.
Fwing! The sounds of swords being unsheathed could be heard. Five silver blade glows lit up in the darkness of the hall. The swords belonged to the three Silver ranked guards of the viscount as well as the two Silver ranked swordsmen that came with Master Mancheny. Even though blade glows were not ideal for illumination, it still allowed one to see, barely, the others at the front.
Fwoom! A flame could be seen at the innermost part of the hall, before more sounds of fires starting could be heard. High up in the air, two intersecting lines of hanging lamps were lit in succession. The upright candle holders by the sides of the hall followed suit. Soon the hall was lit completely.
The ones in the hall stared at the scene in stupor. The sight before them was too surreal, almost like a magical phenomenon that they had heard about in the legends.
"Revered Lord Viscount Sirwa, and all the other respected noble guests, I express my warmest welcome to you all," resounded a coarse voice throughout the hall.
In that instant some realized that another person was seated in the prized seat of Viscount Sirwa. The manager of the winery, who was there before, had been pushed to the floor a man dressed in a black shirt, black pants, and black leather boots replaced him. He wore a black cloth around his hair and a black mask on his eyes. Only the lower portion of his face, below his nose, was uncovered.
When he smiled, his shiny white teeth gleamed under the illumination of the candlelight. The man in black was sitting lazily in the chair and regarding the viscount and the rest with an unconvincing smile.
"You... Wh-who are you?" asked Viscount Sirwa in a panicked voice.
"Me? Well, you can call me Zollo, I guess," the man said without a single care in the world, "I have long heard about the generous and just Lord Viscount Sirwa of the Teribo Kingdom, and about the magnanimous deeds you did without batting even an eye. So, I decided to pop in and pay you a visit, and perhaps, help you, Lord Viscount, to spend some of your riches on a good cause. I suppose you wouldn't mind that, would you, Lord Viscount?"
Viscount Sirwa, upon hearing about his 'impressive' reputation, gleefully said, "No, no... I won't mind it at all!"
At the same moment the last words left his mouth, he received a powerful kick.
One of his noble friends glared at him angrily and said, "Idiot, don't you understand sarcasm? He's here to rob us! He's a bandit!"
The viscount finally realised his predicament.
In a fit of rage, he waved his arm and ordered, "Capture him! I want him hanged!"
The two guards, who had only moments earlier been instructed to carry the old manager away, were the closest to the seat, so they drew their swords and rushed forward. The man in the seat only twirled about twice, before the guards collapsed. They lay on the ground, unmoving.
"All of you, go!" roared the viscount.
All three of his Silver ranked guards rushed forward, along with a dozen of others of Iron and Bronze rank. A few short moments later they all accompanied the two original sacrifices on the ground.
The scene was completely out of this world. The man who called himself 'Zollo' was unarmed, and his figure merely shifted a few times before all the guards were knocked out. A couple of nobles recalled the fires being lit by no-one whatsoever, and their faces paled right away. "He's... He's a magus!"
The sound of trickling water could be heard as a few of the spineless noble youths wet their pants.
The magi were described as cold-blooded killers in the legends. It was said that they would carry out experiments with human subjects regularly, often stripping them of their skin or muscles, and even taking their bones out to perform revival experiments. The notion was only further supported by the prevalence of novels that depicted brave knights saving princesses from the grasps of evil magi or dragons.
Viscount Sirwa's pants were also completely drenched. He knew that he was no brave knight, nor was he a pretty princess. The logical conclusion that popped into his mind was that he would be one of the experimental subjects for the magus before him to vent his frustration.
The man in black, Zollo, began to cackle insidiously before he said, "Oh, naughty naughty... I see that I will have to brand your bodies after all..."
As Zollo continued to make his way closer, more than half of the remaining 20 or so people collapsed on the ground, shivering in fear.
All of a sudden, two swords flashed out of nowhere. The two Silver ranked swordsmen that followed Master Mancheny around attacked together in a pincer formation. The tips of their swords pierced directly towards the man's torso. As if he was caught off-guard, the man in black stared with shock at the swordsmen.
"Great, we're saved... Ugh..." One noble youth that thought that Zollo would be cut into pieces by the two swords quieted down and sank into despair, right after expressing his cheer of joy and hope.
The man called Zollo stood without any harm, but the two Silver ranked swordsmen that crossed his figure were not moving in the slightest on the ground.
"Hehehe, are you glad?" Zollo asked before he cackled once more, "Strip them naked!"
The noble youths suddenly found themselves surrounded by six huge men, also clad in black, and wearing skull masks. Even though they moved about silently, their strength was unparalleled. After one noble was caught, his clothes were ripped off him directly, before he was brought in front of Zollo.
Zollo revealed an evil smile as he stretched out a finger. His fingertip glowed as he traced it across the naked noble's body. After that, a large bloody 'Z' appeared on his chest. The 'branded' noble youth fainted from the pain right away.
Another day passed before the drunk workers of the winery awoke. Even though they suffered a bad hangover, it was nothing serious. They would be fine after drinking some more fluids.
The manager of the winery shook his groggy head. He felt as if he had dreamt up that encounter with the bandits. In his dream the bandits breached their winery, but didn't want money or women. All they demanded was for the workers of the winery to drink, and those who resisted would be force-fed wine until all of them were dead drunk. Even after the manager was made drunk, he was still forced to drink for a whole lot longer. Since the wine produced by the Luxcrimson Winery was of rather high quality, the manager couldn't avoid getting drunk despite his above average tolerance to alcohol.
Are there really bandits like that in this world? wondered the manager, before an errand boy of the winery came over and dragged him outside.
The manager noticed the carriages and mounts left in the courtyard by the viscount.
Where's the Lord Viscount? wondered he.
After searching through the whole winery, they still didn't locate the viscount or his guards.
Impossible, the viscount must be somewhere in the area... There's no way he would be able to make it out of the winery with that flabby figure of his! And he couldn't possibly travel on foot and leave all his mounts here! We must keep looking!
The manager began to feel enraged. He suspected that the bandits had been planning something against the viscount.
In the end, they finally found Viscount Sirwa and the rest at the deepest corner of the wine cellars. The workers hauled the naked men hugging each other to conserve heat and stave of the freezing cold out of the cellar.
In actuality, the viscount and the rest had already regained consciousness for a good while. When they realized that they were trapped in a wine cellar, they cried out for help to no avail. They had been dumped in the deepest corner of the cellar -- deep underground -- and there were lots of things piled up at the entrance. Not a peep could escape the cellar. Even if their cries of help escaped the cellar, the rest of the workers of the winery remained dead drunk throughout the day in the hall.
By the time midnight came along, every one of them had sore throats. Hungry and cold, they could only huddle up to conserve some heat. The weather of the 11th month and the fact that they were underground caused them to feel extreme cold. Had it not been for the workers that found it weird for there to be so much junk piled up at the cellar, Viscount Sirwa and the rest of his guards and his other companions might have died from the cold without anyone noticing.
It didn't take long for the police force of the capital to rush to Luxcrimson Winery. Word of Viscount Sirwa's encounter quickly spread throughout the royal capital, and soon rumors of the magus Zollo who could summon skeleton soldiers that left a mysterious 'Z' mark on the bodies of the ones involved, greatly befuddled all who heard about the incident.
The testimonies of the manager of the winery and the rest of the workers about how the six or seven bandits that only forced them to drink didn't help at all.
After two confused days, the Silver ranked swordsmen who had their jaws broken finally remembered something that was on their mind: Master Mancheny's family of three had disappeared without a trace. Things were definitely getting out of hand, given that a master glassmith like him vanished all of a sudden.
"How could this Master Mancheny leave the royal capital with his whole family?" questioned the king of the Teribo Kingdom, Teribo VII, as he stood before the security officials of the capital.
As a glassmith, while they could enjoy preferential treatment and riches, they would lose their personal freedoms. Apart from the glass production plant and the royal capital, they didn't have any right to go anywhere else. If it were any other way, the secret of glass production wouldn't have stayed within the Teribo Kingdom for hundreds of years.
So, when the facts were brought before the king...
"Hang that Viscount Sirwa at the plaza in front of the palace right away! Have the guards at the western city gates hanged as well! Their greatest crime is not inspecting the ones who left the city! As for the two Silver ranked swordsmen tasked to watch the master, eradicate their families! To think they would neglect their most important duty. They must the glassmith they're assigned, or kill him if that need arises. Whatever they do, they must ensure that the secret of glass production stays within the kingdom! Their task is far more than just keeping an eye out for the glassmith!
"Also, for the ones at the production plant that have accepted the bribe of Viscount Sira... Have them all beheaded. If they were daring enough to chase a glassmith that knows the ins and outs of glass production out of the plant, if they were offered an even higher price, who knows when they'll smuggle a glassmith out to another nation?!
"All that crap about the magus and skeleton soldiers... That's just all a ruse to distract us from noticing the disappearance of Mancheny's family! Don't let the nobles who were involved in that incident off! And make sure to get to the bottom of this case and have those who played a part in it pay. Have someone investigate who it was that planned this whole thing! Be it some noble house or a whole nation... As long as we have a lead, I don't mind mobilizing all the Blademasters of the kingdom to ensure that the secret of glass production is kept!"
As Teribo VII raged on, a storm of blood and chaos began to brew in the Teribo Kingdom...
You don't need me to tell you which fictional character dressed in all black (Lorist) is referring to here, right? I changed the name slightly to avoid any potential infringement issues.