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Ascenders Rift 54 Hell's Swamp, The King's Words?

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The north-eastern ends of the Morning Star Empire were a very peculiar place; its terrain mostly comprised of swamps and lakes that spread out for an unseen distance. A myriad of structures built with sturdy wood rested within these moors, each filled with moss, as the pungent scent of decayed vegetation and the lake tickled the noses of those who ventured in these domains.

Much like in the bustling cities, many traveled across these waters, be it, explorers, tourists, or simple locals, they all came here for their endeavors, riding on top of sturdy boats fashioned by local craftsmen who acted as coachmen.

The atmosphere of travel ever so prevent in this land as the various stalls and businesses in the lake floating communities were in full bloom. Yet, despite this air, there was one area among these wetlands that had a sparse and gloomy ambiance.

It was an uncommonly dark patch of waters, filled with colored grasses and moss floating atop of the lake's surface. Occasionally, one would see a few items such as worn-out bags floating about, along with many other shining jewel and other valuable objects.

Though they filled many of the travelers with greed, no one dared to venture into these gloomy parts. As if they shared a common instinct, all coachmen who guided patrons avoided this region for all knew too well the name of this devilish area.

It was here that was known as Hell's Swamp, though not as famous as any of the world's three most dangerous locations. It was only a tinge inferior; some say unusual monsters were lurking at its depths, while others claim to have seen creatures that are far from the ordinary amphibious such as crocodiles.

However, these claims only remain as stories to no end, for one thing remains true about those who venture into these waters. The fact that any who dare to wander its depths will meet with certain death.
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Currently, a boat capable of carrying seven individuals was strolling around the outer edge of this marsh. It was a reasonably high-class model compared to regular wooden boats used as ferries by the locals, its passengers looking around curiously with excitement in their eyes.

One young man looked and saw that one of the bags filled with valuables was strafing towards their boat direction. As the person saw this, his eyes beamed with joy as he spoke to the coachman, "Wait, just wait a little longer."

The middle-aged coachman frown as he heard those words, he looked at the individual and spoke, "Kiddo, what's the meaning of this? You do know that this is the outer edge of Hell Swamp, right? The longer we stay here, the more prone we become to its dangers. I don't have time to put my passenger's safety for your endeavors..."

The middle-aged coachman knew what the youngster was aiming for; he no longer wasted even a single moment as he steered the boat to leave the area, the propellers spinning at a faster rate causing the boat to move.

As they left this area, the bag that was previously moving halted in the dark waters. Vaguely, if one looked closer they would see two gleaming lights in the shape of large eyes. They glared at the boat before blinking and vanishing.

None of them noticed this scene, the youngster was growing anxious. He wanted to tell the coachman to stop, but as he saw that the man was no longer paying him any attention, he lowered his head in anger.

"Che! Damn old man, no wonder he's stuck in this rut for his shitty years..."The youngster cursed under his breath, he lifted his head and glanced towards the location of the bag but couldn't help but exclaim as he saw something strange.

"This... what the hell?" The youngster shouted in alarm.

As they heard his exclamation, everyone looked at the young man and criticized.

"Brat, what is it this time? Do you think we didn't notice that bag? If you want to die in these waters, then no one will stop you; just make sure to get your own ride." One person said in annoyance.

"Quiet down and stop all your foolish racket, boy!" Another said.

The young man was a bit embarrassed, but he still opened his mouth and shouted while pointing towards the scene, "Look, I'm not joking, there are some guys headed over to the marsh!"

The individuals didn't believe him, but once they turned and look, their eyes went wide when they saw a small wooden boat without any adornments, moving towards Hell's Swamp. There were six individuals in total seated on its interior as a fat man was using the oar to stir the boat forward, his face and body drenched in sweat.

In moments, this boat had entered the domain of Hell's Swamp, as it continued to veer towards its depths without any signs of stopping.

"These idiots, what the hell are they doing?" One person shouted in shock.

"It is indeed, as they say, the young knows no fear..." The middle-aged coachman said in disappointment.

Not paying any mind to the strangers, Evan, and the others had continued to traverse the wetlands at a steady pace. While Evan, Rick, and Breya had managed to remain at ease, the others each carried a look of fear as they didn't know what could pop out of the waters.

"It took us two days to get here, and now that we've arrived at this swamp, I'm feeling a bad vibe. Sigh... I do hope nothing bad happens..." Emilia said with a somewhat worried appearance.

"Sister Emmy, don't worry, we have so many strong men here to protect us. I'm sure we'll be fine," Layla said with a smile, trying to mask her fear as she gestured towards Evan, Rick, and Fatty Joe.

"Hehe, you're right, the strongest is even at work, striving to keep fit even at this time," Breya said with a snicker as she motioned towards Fatty Joe.

Fatty Joe at this time was too busy working out a sweat by paddling the water with the large oar, his face flushed as he gritted his teeth and glared at Evan.

Evan smiled as he looked at him and spoke, "Fatty, why so sullen? You were the one who said he wanted to break a sweat, remember?"

Fatty Joe gave Evan a cut-throat look as he shouted, "I didn't mean it that way!"

"Haha, of course... that's why your training right now, keep in mind that this is very beneficial not only to your body but your mind." Evan said calmly as he continued to look around the area; he seemed to be searching for something.

"Hehe... just you wait, Evan. Karma will follow," Fatty Joe murmured as his eyes shone in a sly glint, it seemed as if he had decided on his means of payback. His arm stroked his belly as a vague rumble was heard as if a storm was brewing.

While Evan was unaware of the soon to come disaster, Rick was a bit absent-minded. His eyes kept staring at the dark swamp waters, as occasionally, it would flicker with images of a strange scene, a picture that was now eating at the core of his mind.

***

It was a room in a grand palace, with high walls, and tall curtains. Many different armaments and artifacts collected from antique eras were neatly arranged at the corners.

At the center of this room was a large bed with white and red sheets, with a myriad of hovering Muffling Drones floating around it as they released a spherical dome of blue energies that sealed all sounds from their interior.

A weak-looking middle-aged man was lying down on the bed while occasionally coughing. He was a man with blue hair, a square-shaped face, trimmed mustache, and a large beard. After he gathered his breath, he looked towards a blackish-blue haired young man that stood by his side and spoke.

"Ivan... I am very disappointed in you. I've told you, you must learn to be like your brother, as a prince you have no time to be dawdling around in some institution. Times are changing and you need to accept your place in the palace and work for the better hood of our people, for you are royalty, and with such power comes, cough-cough!" The man tried to lecture Ivan, but before he could finish his words, his illness got the better of him.

Rick looked at his father and clenched his fists when he spoke, "Father, I know I have responsibilities, and it's not like I am trying to avoid them. I have my way of handling things. If you want me to follow along with my brother and accept the aid of those strangers, then it won't happen. It is simply not my way. We do not know of their origins, nor do we know of their goals, why should I work with them?"

The king had only now calmed down, he looked at the flustered Rick and sighed as he spoke, "Ivan... I don't blame you for your suspicions, but my son, sometimes there comes a time when you can only make a harsh decision. Not everything in this world is as it seems when faced with a greater power, the only thing the weak can do is conform. Knowing when to submit is the only way the weak can find its place among those truly at the summit."

As the king spoke to here, a sharp look came on his face as his eyes shone with a firm look. He grabbed Rick's hand and spoke, "Ivan... I want you to remember these words, no matter what you see or hear in the future, always remember to act with the utmost care. For there are eyes that not only exists in these walls but the world itself. You must also know that where there are eyes… there are naturally arms…"

After these words, Rick looked at his father silently as the scene in the room had changed. The surroundings grew dark, causing everything to sink into nothingness.

***

At this point, Rick who was remembering his father's words had woken from his memories. He gripped his fist and muttered with a firm look on his face, "Father, my decision will never change. I know what your warning is, and I know that you've only done what you did to avoid us falling into danger. No matter what happens to the palace, I shall be certain to remember your words."

Not long after saying this, Rick's eyes flashed as he saw that a strange change was occurring before the boat. A bright flash of light had appeared in the distance as Evan's voice sounded, "We've arrived."

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