Within Lorist’s recollections, the dining hall should be the largest place within the castle of the Nortons. Every time his father hosted a banquet, the hall would always be filled to the brim with people enjoying delicious food and big mugs of ale. The partygoers that made merry throughout the banquets would always leave the floors in a terrible mess.
Lorist realized that the dining hall Shadekampf and Patt were leading him to wasn’t the one within his memories after they took a different turn. He asked curiously, “Isn’t the dining hall over there? Why are we heading here instead?”
Shadekampf asked, “Young Master, you still remember where the dining hall is at?”
“Naturally, I’ve only been away for ten years you know. I can still recall bits of my childhood,” said Lorist.
“Young Master, we’re not heading to the main dining hall. After the Old Master passed away, it hasn’t been used ever since. We’re heading to the smaller one,” said Shadekampf.
The smaller dining hall Shadekampf was referring to was a small wooden hut that was built outside the kitchen. With the walls and flooring all constructed from wood and a large wooden long table within, it could house around ten people. Beyond the long wooden table was a bricked fireplace that was currently lit with several pieces of meat on metal sticks sizzling above the brazier that was right next to it.
A chubby cooking lady brought a large basin on the table within which a large, steaming bread was placed. On it was a saw-toothed knife. Taking the knife out, Shadekampf cut off three smaller pieces from the bread and handed them to Lorist. “Young Master, eat them while they’re hot. It tastes pretty good, especially with some salt and honey that you can find on the table.”
The cooking lady then brought another large bowl of potato and rib stew before she served the meat that was being grilled atop the brazier. Lastly, she put a bowl of baked apples onto the table and sprinkled it with some maple syrup.
“Dinner is served,” said the cooking lady coldly before she left with a gloomy expression.
“What’s up with her? Did I wrong her in some way?” said Shadekampf in a surprised tone as he looked towards Patt.
Patt merely shook his head.
“You didn’t wrong her in any way. But she’s unhappy that you brought back the Second Young Master,” said Pesha as she entered the room.
“Why would that piss her off?” Shadekampf continued to question.
“She used to be one of the Old Master’s personal maidservants and she bore him a son. Even though he was merely an illegitimate one, the blood of the Nortons still flows within his veins. If the Second Young Master didn’t make his way back, the next family head would naturally be chosen among the other illegitimate sons,” explained the red-haired female knight as she pulled out the knife that was stuck within the bread and used it to cut a maple syrup-covered apple she took out from the bowl into several small pieces.
“That’s only a pipe dream of hers,” Patt commented.
“LIttle Locke, what is your Battle Force rank?” asked the female knight casually as she stuffed a piece of the apple into her mouth.
“Iron,” Lorist replied.
“You’re still an Iron rank after spending ten years at Morante City? Sigh, I guess you truly are the most useless one among you three brothers. Little Locke, let me put this out first, it’s not that I am against you being the family leader, since there is nobody other than you have the most rightful claim to the position. However, you should remember this. First, don’t even dare to mess with my affairs as you have no right! Second, the Norton Family is in a bad state, so we can’t afford to have you messing around with it. That’s why you should stay in the castle obediently after you inherit the position, understand?” said the female knight as she glared at Lorist.
“Mistress, you don’t understand… The Young Master is…” uttered Shadekampf.
“Shut up! Know your place!” Pesha roared.
Lorist merely nodded.
As if she had won the argument, the woman humphed in satisfaction and took wide steps out of the room with her chest puffed out.
“The mistress thinks too much of herself,” said Shadekampf.
“She’s merely a frog at the bottom of the well who can’t even fathom the existence of the world outside it,” said Patt.
Lorist said, “Shadekampf, Patt, after you’ve finished your meals, go gather some information about the situation here in the castle. I feel that something is off and that the people here isn’t too fond of my return.”
“Young Master, we’re here,” said Patt as he took out the key Gleis had given him and unlocked the door to the study.
Having been closed off for quite a period of time, the air in the study smelled stuffy and stale. Patt quickly opened the windows to let some fresh air into the room.
After that, Patt said, “Young Master, I’ll be leaving now. If you have anything you need, I’ll be waiting by the stairwell.”
Lorist nodded and headed for the desk at the back of the study.
He recalled that his late father, Baron Norton, used to give out orders while sitting behind that exact desk.
Opening the drawer of the desk, he found some old account books and notes as well as another iron box. He remembered that within the box was the Battle Force manual that was passed down within the family. After opening the iron box, a thick beastskin book was revealed before his eyes and on its cover were four large words with an ancient air: ‘Crimsonblood Battle Force’.
Lorist was stunned. Wasn’t the hereditary family Battle Force the Blazing Battle Force? Since when has it become the Crimsonblood Battle Force?
As his mind sifted through the memories of the young Lorist, he recalled a peculiar scene. As the young Lorist was copying the Battle Force manual, he asked his elder brother, “What are you doing?”
His brother replied, “I’m making a new book jacket for Pesha. The one she had is already in quite a sorry state, so I’m making another for her.”
The young Lorist then said, “I want one too, brother. You must be fair to both Pesha and me.”
“Alright, good thing I have two over here. I’ll give the smaller one to you,” his brother replied. He then handed Lorist a beastskin book jacket with the words ‘Blazing Battle Force’ on it for Lorist to cover his hand copy of the first two stages of his Battle Force technique with.
What the heck! That stupid child and his stupid brother! Lorist didn’t know whether he should laugh or cry at the blunder that had caused him to think that his Battle Force was of the fire attribute and made him waste so much time researching other Battle Force manuals, only to end up with him deciding to train in the Aquametal Technique that was passed down to him in his previous life.
Had he known that the technique he trained in was called the Crimsonblood Battle Force, Lorist would have purchased the Burning Blood Battle Force manual that was put up on sale at the mercenary guild of Morante City. Given that it was a blood attribute high-ranked Battle Force technique, it was considered a rare treasure by the mercenary guild and was priced at a staggering 15000 gold Fordes.
The main difference between blood attribute techniques and that of other attributes was that no matter what attribute one’s original awakened Battle Force was, upon training in a blood attribute technique, one’s Battle Force attribute would irreversibly change into the blood type as well. That was also why Lorist didn’t bother to buy a blood attribute Battle Force technique in Morante City during his days of research, as apart from the one one sale at the mercenary guild, there wasn’t any other place where he could find a blood attribute technique.
Flipping the manual open, he saw the first two chapters that detailed the basic hexagonal blood circulation map that he was familiar with. After that was the chapter for the Silver ranked stage of the technique. Reading the main points and memorizing the differences between nodes of the Iron rank circulation path and that of the Silver rank, Lorist circulated his Battle Force and moved it according to the Silver ranked path…
He then drew his sword and a blade glow emanated from it after he injected the sword with his Battle Force. Giving a bitter laugh, he thought, I’ve finally broke through the Silver rank. However, my blade glow won’t be able to hold for long as my Battle Force still dissipates into my meridians and dantian region. Without the Battle Force circulating in my bloodstream, I won’t be able to sustain the blade glow for long. Oh well, I guess I’ll still pass myself off as an Iron rank to catch people off guard with my Dark Stage power.
A few knocks rang out at the door of the study.
“Enter,” said Lorist.
A girl dressed in a white gown entered the study and gave Lorist a quick glance before lowering her head. “Second Young Master, your bedroom is already prepared. Just take a turn when you get up the stairs and you’ll reach it. Oh, your bedsheets have also been switched as well. When you want to take a bath, please ring the bell with the blue rope beside your bed and I’ll start preparing the bathwater quickly…”
The girl’s voice gradually grew softer and softer until she was less audible than a mosquito.
Lorist felt that it was funny how the girl was so afraid of himself. He waved his hand and said, “You may leave now. I will call for you when necessary.”
As if she was granted amnesty, the girl bowed her head another time before she left hastily and almost bumped into Shadekampf who had just entered from the door.
Shadekampf looked at the girl and said, “Irina, it’s you?!”
When Shadekampf closed the door to the study, Lorist asked him, “Do you know the girl from before?”
“Yes, she’s called Irina and she was originally the Third Young Master’s personal maidservant and she’s older than him by one year. She’s the one who grieved the most at the passing of the Third Young Master and cried day and night,” Shadekampf replied.
“Do you have any news for me?” Lorist asked.
“Yes, Young Master. You wouldn’t be able to imagine how heated the quarrel for the position of the family head has been among the various factions in the family. However, the moment you returned, the fight suddenly died down as they had no more hope for it,” said Shadekampf with a smile, as if something funny had happened.
“What’s so funny about that? Tell me.”
“Young Master, despite dating the First Young Master for a couple of years now, not only did Mistress Pesha not bear any children for him, he even found another maidservant which he had a son with immediately after merely two encounters. Mistress Pesha had intended to make that son inherit the position of the family head, but that notion had been struck down by the rest of the family. Being put in an awkward position, your return has made it easier for Mistress Pesha to step down.”
“Why would the others be against the son of my brother being the next family head?” Lorist asked.
“Young Master, that child is only 4 years old and can be considered your junior by a whole generation. That’s why the mistress’s claim was disapproved by many.”
“Who are the ones who didn’t agree with her?”
“Well, you should be wary of Molocinque, who’s the first illegitimate son of your father and is the eldest of the bunch. I heard that he has obtained the support of the families of the garrison of Wildnorth Town, which was the main reason why he wasn’t approved as a candidate for the next family head. Also, half a year back when the Kenmays Family surrounded our castle with their troops, the 7th illegitimate son of your father, Wellickson, has shown his bravery and performed very well in fending off the enemy. He has quite a lot of support from the elderly within the castle. The last one is the son of the cooking lady from before. She had tried to get the rest of the servants to support his son to become the next family head. Two other of your father’s other personal maidservants also felt that their sons would be fit for the family head, however, causing the servants to split into three factions which argued all the time.”
“Stop… Shadekampf, how many illegitimate sons and daughters does my father have?” Lorist’s head started to hurt. The situation he was in was not much different from the dramas in his previous life that depicted the squabbles of rich families. He didn’t expect that even his illegitimate brothers were also gunning for the position of the family head.
“There are 17 illegitimate children. If we include you and your two brothers, the Old Master had 20 children in total,” replied Shadekampf hesitantly. “Including you, there are only 11 that are still alive.”
“Are they all males?”
“No, milord. There are four illegitimate daughters, two of which are already married with the other two still only in their teens.”
“Then does that mean all the living illegitimate sons are part of the power struggle?”
“I understand now,” Lorist said. “I’ve been wondering why the family hasn’t taken any action and allowed the Kenmays Family to do as they please. So the bastards have all decided to pretend to not notice these matters until the family head is decided and even ignored the wellbeing of those working in the mine… How ridiculous.”
Shadekampf felt curious and asked, “Why did Old Butler Gleis leave them to squabble among themselves without doing anything about it?”
“It’s simple. Gleis himself wasn’t sure if I would come back to the dominion to inherit the position. What if Patt and you couldn’t find me or something bad happened to us along the journey? That’s why he let them do as they pleased so that the tallest among the dwarves will be picked just in case I wasn’t able to make my way back so that the family bloodline can still continue,” explained Lorist.
“It’s fortunate that you’ve returned. Now, they no longer have a reason to continue that squabble,” said Shadekampf with joy.
“So that’s why the people here aren’t too happy of my return at all. I was the one who caused all the drama to cease. Oh well, it’s getting late. Where will you and Patt be sleeping tonight?” Lorist asked.
“We’ll be using the guest room by the stairs. I’ll be alternating with Patt for patrolling during the night, so please rest well, milord.”