He muttered a few words under his breath, and the case began to shine with a soft, red hue. A distinct *cling* rang, as if signifying that something had just taken place.

"Cling?" Aries said, offering Gustav a puzzled look.

"I put a magical lock on it," Gustav explained. "If there's no sound, I'll know that somebody tampered with the artifact."

The maid nodded. "I see."

Gustav nodded to her. Then he looked at the case, cracking the lid. Within, resting against a silken cushioning, was a pair of exquisite gloves. A red spot marked both gloves' backs, and crimson lines traced from there to each fingertip. Metal linings trailed in tangent to crimson lines, finishing what was a workmanship of silvery-crimson jet.

Gustav geared up in a matter of seconds, his manner accustomed. The silken fabric felt natural on his hands. He had missed the feeling. Now to hope that he wasn't completely out of practice; maintaining the castle and a monster army had taken its toll on Gustav's sparring time.

"Alright", Gustav said, walking then past Aries to the door. He turned to look at her one more time. "While I'm out there, make sure to send me support if needed", he said. "Not any lizardmen, though. A demon lord will suffice."

Aries bowed her head. "...Master."

"Yes?"

"Why not send your monster army to face her, instead?"

Gustav shook his head. "Because she's a monster in her own right, Aries. As strong as they come."

Was she fidgeting? "But still-"

"The army would simply get decimated, Aries," Gustav said. "No- not decimated, but wiped out of existence. And I'm not having that."

Aries pursed her lips together.

Gustav turned his back to her and opened the door. What greeted him beyond was the familiar smell of molden stone and moist, cold air; the Castle Darkstead's corridors.

He heard a voice. "Master!"

"What now?" Gustav asked, sighing.

Aries walked to the doorway, and gesticulated at her chin. "You forgot to shave, Master. I can't have you appear before your nemesis like that, can I?"

***

After having his beard shaved, Gustav set off through the Castle Darkstead's corridors. Barely any light illuminated his way, but it was all good - after all, Gustav wasn't in the habit of employing ghosts who loved to scare the living daylights out of anyone, human or not. Nor was he in the habit of employing the undead. Unpractical, those - their decomposing bodies emitted a certain odor that was repugnant to the sensibilities of human nose.

It's just like Aries to stay behind, Gustav thought, passing by a pair of lizardmen guarding the entrance to the eastern wing of the Castle. Both of them saluted - not lazily, but with a gumption belonging to an eager recruit, or perhaps a respectful veteran. It was kinda hard to tell at times, what with the lizardmen rarely showing emotion on their faces. Gustav raised his hand to the guardsmen. Respect breeds respect - even a villain should understand as much.

Past the corridor, the castle suddenly expanded, rooms becoming wide and spacious. In truth, Gustav's wing was a remnant from the olden days, when he'd had to plan for a possible enemy assault. Leaner corridors allowed for a superior means of defense. The rest of the castle had been reworked ten years ago, or so - with the help of a few dark mages who had lifted stones into the air, far more efficient in their work than any mechanical lift. Ah, but he didn't employ the dark mages anymore, either. They had... usurpatory tendencies.

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