Was this really a job befitting a former underlord? Perhaps not, but it was one the few jobs that he had been entrusted with for now. When it wasn’t sweeping, it was peeling and cutting vegetables. Not terribly stimulating, but a much more lenient alternative to slaving away during the hours of the day mining for crystals.
And yet, Holt felt as though his spirit was being smothered. When he was an Underlord, his ambitions were allowed to flourish with the knowledge that had the opportunity to attain a position of great power and affluence, but now it felt like he had been given the responsibility of menial tasks for the sole purpose of crushing his spirit. But perhaps he was being too hard on himself. He had plenty of time to do that as he swept the vast halls of the Imperial Palace.
Most of the time, the palace didn’t often boast of any visitors. Another part of his punishment he mused. Isolation. But when the palace did have visitors, in times of festivities, Holt had plenty to do. This was due, in part to the change that followed the Emperor’s defeat. No longer was the palace his personal domain. It was now a venue for celebrations! Where the farmers of the land could exhibit their seasonal harvests, where important announcements could be made and where lavish feasts could be hosted. A shining beacon of Peach Blossom Spring Cavern. But all those virtues were wasted on Holt. To him it was just ‘the place where he worked’ and ‘the place I have to clean up after.’
But Holt’s efforts were not in vain, because someone was keeping an eye on him. When she wasn’t teaching students how to sling, Master Lian would sometimes observe Holt as he worked hard, day after day. Not even disputing what he was given to do. What she concluded from this was, that when given the choice, the man would choose the easiest option to keep himself safe, even at the cost of being subservient.
If Peach Blossom Spring Cavern was to continue to prosper, then a large number of skilled fighters would be needed to defend it against threats that would surely come once again. If that outcome was to be realized, then even men such as Holt would need to be recruited to defend it and that would require earning his loyalty.
But Holt didn’t know that it would involve trekking to the summit of one of the tallest spires in the Eastern Caverns!
“I need your help to get something up there.” She had told him. Another pointless task delegated to him. Only this time it came with the burden of carrying heavy luggage. Still he didn’t complain… much. By the time they had reached the summit, Holt was reduced to a wheezy mess. Having finally reached the top, Holt let the heavy bag he was carrying drop to the ground, while he attempted to catch his breath.
“Tell me Holt, have you ever seen a view of Peach Blossom Spring Cavern quite like this one?”
“No! Because I don’t make it a habit of climbing tall mountains with heavy luggage.” Holt retorted after turning around to face her.
“Jest all you want, but even you must admit that the view is beautiful.” Master Lian deflected his sarcasm.
“It’s… alright.” He admitted, after some thought. But it was not what he truly felt. Master Lian was right. The view of the village with peach blossom petals wafting through the air, at one of the highest points in the cavern, was indeed beautiful. It made his heart soar, but it also confused him.
“Master Lian…” He said carefully. “I don’t understand what we’re doing here.”
“Sit down and I’ll show you.” Master Lian invited him to sit with her. She had set out a place to eat with an oriental rug and refreshments on top of it.
“What is this?”
“Food. That you prepared.” She answered as a matter of fact, making Holt’s face transform from that of bafflement to astonishment.
“I see that look on your face. You thought that it was simply a punishment.” She remarked.
“But even punishments can yield rewards.” She reflected.
“What are you trying to tell me?” Holt asked, getting frustrated with all these cryptic messages.
“You’ve worked hard these past few months Holt. Don’t you think it’s time for something better?” Master Lian asked, finally making herself clear.
“Are you… promoting me?!” Holt asked. He couldn’t believe what Lian had just proposed to him. He hadn’t expected his punishments to lead to anything and now she was giving him a second chance.
“Yes, I am.” She acknowledged.
“When the Eastern Caverns are threatened and are in need of slingers, can we count on you?” She posed the crucial question. Suddenly putting Holt on the spot.
“Y-yes! I won’t fail you Lady—” Holt blurted out in a panic, incorrectly calling her by her former title.
“Good.” She smiled.