Nestled inside a small garden was an elegant-looking gazebo made entirely out of dark wood, surrounded on all ends but the front one with flourishing white roses. Inside, occupying two chairs and a table, Lucky and Alison sat in temporary silence as the former stared at the latter expectantly. Alison seemed to be mulling over something with a hardened expression, her thin eyebrows crunched together, look in her eyes deep and complex.
Nearly a month had passed since the Black Fire, but there was no official reason given -- whatever the House itself found it kept to itself, and whatever others who investigated it knew, they too kept it to themselves. The case was similar with Alison, who spent the last month trying to confirm her suspicions before relaying them back to her Sect. Unfortunately, she lacked enough evidence to conclusively say exactly who did it, but, nonetheless, in her heart she knew.
Lucky, sitting opposite of her, was entirely in the dark. Despite her best attempts, she was still unable to uncover the perpetrators of the Fire. She asked and tapped into nearly all of her sources, but to no avail; even if they knew something, they all remained mum. Rather, the entire story surrounding the Black Fire was already seemingly forgotten -- not something that ought to be simply let go of that simply. A massive fire broke out in the heart of the Celeste Empire, inside one of the major auction houses of the commercial leaders of the world, with countless items crafted by some of the best-known smiths having been stolen... yet, the world ceased to discuss it. She found it odd, until Alison, just a few moments ago, slipped and admitted she knew who was behind it, which began Lucky’s attempts to probe the answer out of her.
“Come on, what’s the big deal?” Lucky pushed, smiling widely. “I promise I won’t tell anyone.”
“... b-but... I don’t know if I should...” Alison mumbled weakly, clearly struggling.
“Of course you should; if it were me, I’d tell you!”
“Then you tell me one of your big secrets first!” Alison fired back.
“My big secrets, huh?” Lucky mumbled strangely for a moment, thinking. “Alright, I got one. It was actually me that stole that special wine of yours.”
“E-eh?!! But why?! Why would you do that?! You knew my Master sent it to me as a gift!!”
“What do you mean why?” Lucky shrugged, leaning back. “You would never drink it, and it felt like such a waste. Having tasted it, I can confirm... it would have gone to waste in your hands. It’s best certified alcoholics like me take a shot at it.”
“... y-you thief! Now I’m definitely not telling you!”
“Eeeh, come on, don’t make me beg..”
“Are you seriously waiting for me to beg?”
“Alright,” Lucky shrugged, suddenly falling off her chair and onto her knees, bowing before Alison. “Oh the mighty Ally, with a compassionate and sharing heart, please grant this lowly one the opportunity to bask in your infinite knowledge--”
“Get up! Get up! This is too embarrassing!!” Alison quickly cried out as her cheeks flushed red, pulling Lucky up off the floor. The latter grinned inwardly, getting up.
“... ugh, fine. But, if it comes back to bite you in your behind, don’t come crying to me!”
“Oh, so Ass-biters caused the fire! Tsk, got it!”
“Ha ha ha ha ha...”
“Y-you...” Alison pointed a shaking finger at Lucky for a moment, before giving up as her shoulders slumped. “Ah, whatever. It’s who you are.”
“It indeed is.” Lucky cracked a momentarily grin. “So, who caused the fire and stole the items?”
“... I’m fairly certain it was the members of the Void Cult.”
“... never heard of them.”
“Unsurprising,” Alison said. “Not many have. It’s partly because they rarely cause trouble, and partly because they’ve even helped us out on a few occasions.”
“Who are they?” Lucky questioned.
“We don’t know,” Alison shrugged. “We really only know they’ve been around for quite some time, they’re always among the first to discover and explore ruins and rogue dimensional pockets, and that they never publicly admit to doing anything. Rather, they don’t even admit they exist.”
“...” Lucky fell into a brief lull, going over everything she’d learned over the past few years she’d spent on the Holy Continent. However, no matter how much she rummaged, she couldn’t think of a single instance where that name came up. “So, why do you think they did it?”
“As far as I’m aware,” Alison replied. “Only Heaven’s Chosen Sect, Great Descent and them can refine Dragon Flames for human use. While it is possible there are some other factions in the world who can do it, black flames are specifically their calling card. However, I can’t exactly say what their goal was.”
“Items? Revenge? Fun?” Lucky mumbled out randomly.
“... don’t know.” Alison admitted with a bitter expression. “Their goals are never really clear, and while their actions at the time may seem random, they always lead to something much larger. Thus far in the overall conflict they’ve remained on the sidelines... but if they’re joining, things might become even more complicated than they already are...”
“...” Lucky made a quick mental note of many things: she wouldn’t find this group by looking directly for them, which is what Alison was doing. They probably have no distinct features, like Great Descent and their numbers, and blend in perfectly with the rest of the world.
No, she would have to follow their trail and scent; while items are the obvious choice, she didn’t have much hope as they don’t sound like a black-market-trading sort. They either needed one or a few and would keep them while discarding the rest, or they merely used the theft as a diversion for something else. She would put out feelers, no doubt, but she wouldn’t bank all her hopes on that. She was much more interested in another thing Alison accidentally let slip -- they have a specific goal.
“Can you tell me what they used to do in the past?” Lucky asked.
“... hmm,” Alison thought for a moment before replying. “Well, for instance, during the early days of the Holy War between Eternals and Aeonians, they used to sell talismans to the Eternals and pills to the Aeonians, disguised as entirely different factions. Even when we discovered it, we mostly just assumed they did it for the profits, but it turned out they did it as an experiment; apparently, they were testing to see long-term effects of high-quality but speedily-made items and what negative impacts they’d have on the bodies.”
“As I said, they’re rather odd,” Alison chuckled as she noticed Lucky’s strange expression. “Truth be told, the reason we call them Void Cult is because, well, we know next to nothing about them... other than that they are structured sort of like a cult. There is a clear hierarchy established with divisions in ranks, all orbiting a ‘divine figure’ of sorts... though we’re unsure whether it’s an actual person or just a mythical creature or something.”
“Wow,” Lucky exclaimed. “You weren’t kidding when you said you knew next to nothing about them. Why is the Great Descent then called the most mysterious if these guys exist?”
“... oh, it’s simple,” Alison said. “While we do know a lot of about the Descent, we know literally nothing when it comes to the things that matter. We don’t know any one of their upper members, we don’t know their actual strength, their location, their goals, how far does their influence spread, what are they doing, how, why, when... honestly, for all we know, the Void Cult was created by the Decent. I mean, a slew of smaller groups that used to do crazy things in the past were created by the Descent. So, really, anything is possible when it comes to them.”
“... huh. Is that so?” Lucky mumbled, taking out a small gourd of wine and taking a sip. “Do you have any idea on how to track the Cult? If you can get me one of them, I can get them talking.”
“I’ve been trying,” Alison sighed. “But, it’s... I don’t want to say impossible, but close to it. For all I know, they’re everywhere, but to me they may as well be nowhere.”
“Eh, don’t worry,” Lucky said, smiling and stretching her arm over, ruffling Alison’s hair. “We’ll figure something out. There’s no such thing as ‘impossible to find’. One way or another, even the smallest stalks turn up eventually.”
“... I sure hope so,” Alison said, sighing. “I just worry for what they might do next...”
And I’m hoping they hurry up, Lucky thought inwardly, deciding to keep it to herself. The more active they are, the greater the chance she had of locating them. Lino had already told her that, save for following Alison around, her number one priority for the time being was locating whoever stole the items. She had already relinquished most of her tasks when it came to the Shadows, only keeping Ty’s assignment to herself. She mused inwardly that there wouldn’t be a boring day for many months to come, though when one follows Lino around and does things for him, they tend to wind up hoping for the boring days to descend.