“You don’t lose the war because your enemy is stronger, you lose because you don’t know what he is up to.”
I push the lever forward, accelerating the shuttle to its full speed. My personal transport vehicle bucks and I feel my whole body being pressed into the seat. I don't dare to touch the steering controls at this moment. While sturdy, the interplay of forces could tear the jet apart.
The 'Needle' was designed as a one-person, high-speed courier-ship. The little ship is formed like an elongated icicle without wings. There is just enough space for the pilot and a little bit of cargo. Its only purpose is to be fast. Therefore, I completely neglected defensive and offensive capabilities.
After the initial acceleration, a grin steals itself onto my face as I engage the cloaking function and slightly tap the steering controls, allowing the Needle to rise to a higher altitude. The reduced air pressure will allow the shuttle to fly faster and will also reduce the noise of a supersonic object travelling through the atmosphere.
Leaning back, I allow the ship to take me to my destination.
Getting away from Illum and my responsibilities required a lot of preparations and instructions. Fae and Tristen were less than happy. Again and again, I had to reassure them that Illum won't fall down, just because I am not present for a few days.
I shudder, remembering all the instructions and contingency plans which I had to leave behind for my administrators. They are as independent as humanly possible, but the fact that I won't give anyone besides myself direct control over Illum is troublesome. It... restricts what my aides can do.
Hell, I wouldn't be comfortable either. Imagine yourself being a passenger on a transatlantic flight, and suddenly the pilot walks past you, informing you that he will go for a short swim. And then he jumps out of the plane. Hahaha.
Yeah... It's understandable that they don't feel so good about my little tour, but I insisted on going alone.
Reaching behind me, I touch the large crate to reassure myself that it's still there.
Everyone wondered about it when I left. Of course, I had no intentions of showing its contents to anyone. Only Fae, Tristen and Janice were present when I left. It surprised me since I suspected that Zane would have something to say about my sudden departure. He didn't show himself after he left my quarters this morning.
I purse my lips while fighting the urge to smile at the same time. “I suppose that he has to deal with his parents.” They strike me as the types who meddle in their children's affairs. Add to that the fact that they are nobles and Zane won't get a free second until he made a full report.
Turning my attention to a more productive activity, I call up a map of the world and spend my time considering everything I know about the various factions.
It takes less than an hour to reach Abasin Valley, where I discovered the old crypt. After making sure that I am at the right coordinates, I lower the Needle's speed and decrease my altitude. I promised that I would return to this place. The time has arrived, not only to satisfy my curiosity, but also to set yet another plan into motion.
Before I land, I fly three large circles around the area, making sure that there is nobody who could cause me problems later on. The air is empty of ships and the jungle seems to be silent. Of course, I can't be entirely sure with all the plant life on the ground.
Remembering the area from my last visit, I ignore the scholar's old camping site and manoeuvre the ship directly to the old ruins. From above, the pyramid looks like an overgrown hill. The jungle's plants clearly aren't kind to human constructions.
Finding the right landing spot for the Needle proves to be difficult. The ship is only nine metres in length, but that's more than the jungle is willing to give me. Close to the ruins, there is no glade which makes it easy to land.
In the end, I decide to use the Needle's force fields to cut out a landing area. I avoid cutting down a tree, but a few large branches have to go. The decision to land the Needle, instead of allowing it to hover above the area, is a risky one.
Janice's warning of other reincarnated people made me wary. I don't think that the Needle's cloaking function is bad, but there are ways to see through it. Additionally, I am visiting an area where I've been previously. An opponent with the right skill-set might want to investigate places in which I showed my interest.
Down on the ground, the trees and plants will provide additional cover for the Needle. Unless someone steps onto it, I am relatively sure that it will stay undetected.
After touching down on the ground, I open the cockpit and retrieve the crate from behind the pilot's chair. Shouldering the heavy item, I order the cockpit to close and inspect the damage I did to the vegetation. There is a large hole in the jungle's canopy, but that should be fine. What's more worrying is the fact that my intervention made it quite clear that something artificial happened to the trees.
I wince. The cuts on the branches are too smooth. Worried that this sign will still be visible a few weeks from now, I use a force spell to split and damage the trees in the affected area. No matter how my plans evolve, someone is bound to investigate this place sooner or later.
Having done all I can, I walk towards the old digging site. It should be less than a hundred metres from here. The thick underbrush is troublesome, but magic allows me to advance at an acceptable pace.
Reaching the right spot, I find myself bewildered. Before we left the digging site, we filled the hole with dirt to cover it up and to prevent the possibility that someone accidentally activates the teleportation circle. Or worse, that the crypt's guardians would escape.
Yet, there is no sign of the hole. The vegetation overgrew the area so completely that it's almost impossible to notice the spot. I quickly check my memories and compare them to the southern side of the pyramid, which is barely visible behind a few bushes. I am definitely at the right spot.
“Let's hope that my shuttle's landing spot will be equally overgrown in a few weeks.” Maybe my worries of leaving clues are unfounded. This verdant jungle is quick to eliminate or cover any signs of human presence.
I walk over to the digging site and access the power core inside my barrette. Then I stretch out all my senses to search for the crypt beneath the ruins. I teleport.
I teleport and appear right inside the teleportation chamber which allowed the scholars access to the crypt. Not wasting time, I draw the white mask from my belt to see in the dark. Boy, it has been ages since I had a use for this thing.
The room is empty, just like we found it the first time. I lower the crate and open it in order to retrieve the equipment which I piled on top of the item which is my real reason for being here. To reassure the others, I left Illum in a casual robe. They would have worried for nothing, had they seen me fully armoured up.
Besides the dragonbone armour, which is still a fine item, I put on the black armour which I issued to all of my guards. The enchanted carbon fibre is light-weight and sturdy enough to absorb a few blows. If a spell gets through the protective charms, I doubt that it would matter whether the armour is made out of metal or paper.
When it comes to magical resistance, the dragonbone is still my best bet. Hmm, maybe I can find a way to synthesize the material. According to my knowledge, it's just a blend of ceramics and carbon. Though, I would really need a properly equipped laboratory to perform the necessary chemical tests.
Yet another way to spend my money.
I close the crate and shoulder it once more.
Slowly and silently I follow the corridor, always careful not to activate any traps. The main corridor seems to be safe. I am quite sure that the scholars had to trip some kind of alarm to be hunted so vehemently. Last time, the scholars advanced quite deep into the crypt before the guardians attacked.
At the first large junction, I chose the left corridor. It ends soon afterwards in a small room with a shrine. A dead-end. The shrine is filled with sculptures which are made out of bronze. Some are even silver. There is a large, red crystal embedded in the graven image which is looming above the shrine. It's a large face with oversized teeth. An orc? Or maybe their god?
My mask reveals that some of the tiles in front of the shrine are enchanted. It also looks like some of the offerings and the large ruby are cursed. It isn't even a strong curse, but my tattoo starts tingling as it fights the subtle influence on my mind. The curse is meant to draw the observer's attention to the items. It serves purely as a distraction.
Otherwise, the room doesn't hold anything of magical worth. I turn my back on the worldly treasures and walk back to the junction. It's highly likely that the tiles activate the crypt's defences. That's something I really want to avoid. There is no need to spring the trap if it serves no purpose.
But I can imagine that it's quite a good trap for hapless fools. They reach the small room and activate the crypt's guardians by stumbling forward to inspect the various sculptures. Then they get drawn in by the curse, while the guardians advance from their resting places and flood down the corridor.
The victim finds himself trapped in a small room with dozens of Draugr who are ready to add him to their numbers. It keeps up the number of guardians and lessens the chance of escape.
I keep checking out the various corridors. After three junctions I realize that there is always only one way forward, while the others lead to a shrine with traps, or to a room with a large hole in the floor. The latter one strikes me as a way for the crypt guardians to get around. Maybe there is a whole, separate tunnel system beneath these corridors.
As long as there is no need to, I have no desire to check out the holes in more detail.
After several junctions, I reach a large room with a metal door at the other end. Up until now, I encountered no signs of my first visit. There were no bodies or any equipment on the ground. The guardians cleaned everything up. Annoyed, I click my tongue and study the floor. Each and every tile has some kind of enchantment on it.
I remember the scholars mentioning that they were attacked in a large room. So they managed to get to this point, but no further. No wonder, it doesn't seem as if anyone is supposed to get past this room.
On the room's far end are the guardians inside their coffins, arranged in neat rows of two. They are waiting, motionless. There must be dozens of them. Maybe even over a hundred.
It's not hard to imagine that a simple mage light won't illuminate the whole room. My mask eliminates that problem. So anyone who enters the room doesn't know about the crypt's protectors until he gets charged. I bide my time by inspecting every little detail of the room. As long as the guardians don't act, I can use the time to think.