Chapter 27 - A Moment of Respite
Darkfox shook his head. "You didn't get my meaning, miss. Confidential information means only the Ancestors know about it. If I to have operate in the Phantom Realm, I'm told things about it prior to the job and then I get my memory wiped when I get back. Standard procedure."
"Is that so? Then how do you know where the Wind Fairy Wings are from?" Shadow One asked with suspicions.
The man shrugged. "That's what the Ancestors told me."
The Crusader was about to speak something else when Aaron barged in. "Or it might be just some random material and the Ancestors lied to him. Before you confiscate the pillows, let me remind you that he's an Intelligence Agent, bound to live in the shadows most of his life. He takes these little comforts to heart and he'll fight you to death to protect it. Is it really worth it to fight over a few pillows without the hope of getting any useful data out of it?"
Just as he finished speaking, they finally got to the end of the long staircase, finding themselves in front of a small corridor and a closed metal door. Aaron could barely feel some mana disturbance coming from it, revealing it was an enchanted door.
Darkfox went ahead and touched the door with his hand. It started to slowly open by itself.
Myriad Arts – Spellcasting, Artificing, Formation Mastery – Double Elements: Space, Soul – Seventh Item Analysis!
Aaron wanted to check on the door, to use his space and soul mana to check every millimeter of it in both the material and the soul planes. However, his mana went out of his control when it approached the door and he could find nothing about it.
To be able to nullify his spell, this door had to be at least a Higher Artifact, something considered to be on the level of Eminences.
Check Item, he thought.
Name: Arlöin's Door
Grade: Peak Artifact
Despite its annoyingly non-descriptive name, he found out that the door was even better than he imagined! A Peak Artifact was something highly valued in the family, something that was carefully protected by the Ascenders.
Which made Aaron stop walking.
There was no way such a good item would be in a temporary safehouse like that, especially when the undercover agent in charge was only a Champion. The most likely possibilities were that the door could veil its true grade to pass up as a higher graded item or that the safe house had been compromised, its people replaced, and Aaron was, in fact, walking into a cell created by them.
"You don't need to concern yourself with how fruitful my investigation will be!" The Crusader said and walked to stop in front of them. She pointed her finger to Darkfox. "I gave you a chance to cooperate willfully and you didn't take it. This is your last chance, open your mind to be read by me right here, right now, or I'll take you by force!"
Aaron would normally try to prevent her from doing it since who knows what secrets an Intelligence Agent of the family might hide. But that was actually a very good way of removing his suspicions.
Unless, of course, the woman was in on it and was making a scene to give Aaron a false sense of security after she 'checked' on Darkfox and confirmed he was 'clear.'
He sighed. He hated situations like this. He just wanted to get over with this world, not waste time and effort to figure how likely a simple door was to be a deadly trap. Even if he had to do it, he would rather not have to deal with potential turncoats and the like.
But life wasn't perfect, he couldn't just ignore what was happening in front of him.
Objectively speaking, it didn't matter if the man was an impostor or not, since they would only spend the night in there and likely never see him again. Aaron just had to make sure whether the door, which might or not be a Peak Artifact, was a trap. And the best way to do it was to request the door for himself.
If the man refused to give the door up, Aaron could simply leave. If he did present Aaron the door, it wouldn't matter if he was an impostor or not. After all, if the man was an impostor strong enough to kill Aaron without subterfuge, he would've done it already, so the door had to be part of his ploy.
The only issue was the Crusader. If the man was indeed an impostor who wasn't in it with the Crusader and her actions blew his cover, Aaron wouldn't be able to get the door, as everything related to a man under investigation would belong to the Crusade if something happened to him.
To prevent potential loot from leaving his hands, Aaron ignored her and told Darkfox, "I want this door. Give it to me, then obey the lady."
That order had the extra advantage of making Aaron seem compliant to the Crusade despite how he had treated the woman previously. Confusing one's enemies was usually a good thing to do.
Now things got complicated for real. The man might or not be an impostor, might or not be in it with the Crusader, might or not attack, might or not run for it, and might or not acknowledge Aaron's orders.
The Crusader looked surprised at Aaron, not expecting him to give the man the order to obey. And Aaron mimicked her expression when Darkfox nodded once and the door dematerialized.
Then, he gave a small spatial bag to Aaron and sat on the ground.
"Why the surprise?" He asked with a smug expression. "People like me have no such thing like privacy. Golems might be trusted for this line of work since they can't betray their masters no matter what, but you never know when an agent might become a turncoat. My memory hasn't belonged to me for a long time."
That... Was something very strange for the man to say out of nowhere. Not his lack of privacy, but his bit on golems. It made Aaron wonder if the man was hinting at the Crusader being a golem.
Such a thing was crucial information. Spells, formations, and traps to deal with humans were different from those that dealt with golems. More than that, if she was a golem and he couldn't detect it, it meant that either whoever created her was a very talented Artificer, or that the golem itself was too strong for him and was only pretending to be a mere Eminence!
Even though Aaron was confident that he could glue the clues together of her being a golem by himself in a few days — for instance, she had a high concentration of Earth mana inside her —, now that he was directly considering it, finding out the truth would be easier and faster. More than that, if the Crusader was a golem and attacked before he had even considered that option and a stronger one than he expected at that, he might actually die!
Darkfox might just have saved his life! That was invaluable information and, in the future, Aaron would have to reward him for it.
Unless he's an impostor, Aaron thought and sighed. That was way too tiring.
"Why didn't you obey the first time?" Shadow One asked as she put her hand on Darkfox's head. It seemed her curiosity was big enough that she couldn't help herself from asking that even though she would have the answer in an instant.
"I was told to obey the First Champion," Darkfox explained. "At first, he didn't seem to want me to obey you."
Shadow One closed her eyes and Aaron felt a mana disruption around her. Darkfox's eyes rolled back on his head.
"This is terrible," Helina said in trembling voice.
Aaron looked at her. If her story was true and she was indeed a wronged pious Chosen Prophetess, she was going through a lot of things after being hunted by her own people, then seeing some of them killed, and now witnessing the ruthless of the outside world.
Yet, that hadn't shaken her faith in her Vision, following Aaron even in her state. Blind faith was both a scary and wondrous thing.
"Let's go, this mind-reading may take a while," Aaron said and went through the empty doorframe.
They found themselves in a big common room made of metal walls. Aaron didn't feel comfortable in such a cage-like environment, but at least the walls weren't enchanted, and he could dig his way out of there if needed. Just to be sure, he used his Geoscan spell to check if there weren't any objects, magical or otherwise, hidden behind the walls, ceiling, and floor. He found none.
There were multiple doors in the common room, most of them leading to bedrooms containing two bunk beds. Everything was illuminated by a dim light coming from some crystals on the ceiling.
Aaron chose the room furthest to the entrance of the common room. That was the best position in case they were attacked, as it would provide him with extra time to react.
"This one is mine," he said as he approached it. "We don't know when we'll have the chance to sleep in a safe environment again, so sleep well tonight. Tomorrow, we'll talk about our travel plans since it's obvious that reaching the Three Towers won't be easy." He made sure to say that aloud, so the Crusader would hear it.
He got to the door, stopped, and said: "Oh, and Helina, clean yourself, yes? It's not very hygienic to go around covered in blood." He closed the door as she lowered her head to check on her clothes.
He lay on the bed and set up some wards, which is how alarm spells were called, and recalled all he knew about golems, from their creation to their weaknesses.
Mark was feeling lost. Everything was just moving too quickly for him.
He felt old and tired, his legs and back hurt after walking all day, and if it wasn't for him having some willpower, he would have fainted from exhaustion already.
The reason for his state was obviously the crippling of his martial foundation but knowing it didn't make things easier for him. In fact, after seeing how the Herald of Change didn't respect the Crusade one bit, he was having mixed feelings.
That was another confirmation of Aaron's identity as the Herald of Change since no one had ever dared to treat the Crusade like that that he knew of, but Mark also didn't understand why he was collecting powerful enemies.
Maybe it was because of the wisdom about obstacles helping with growth, something Mark had never heard of even though he had repeated those words to Sara as if they were a universal truth. He wondered if the Herald wasn't just messing with him.
He couldn't forget that the Herald was a mage, after all.
What if he was in it with the Immortal Crusade, the Temple of Time, and other mage organizations for some nefarious reasons? What if his aim was to hurt the warriors? His Valdian Martial Arts might be just a ruse for something bigger!
Maybe the changes the Herald was about to bring weren't beneficial to the warriors at all.
Mark shook his head. He was thinking too much like a mage. He had kowtowed to the Herald and called him master. Unless the Herald did something that showed he was plotting against the warriors without a doubt, Mark would keep obeying the man.
He got to the nearest bed and slept almost before his head hit the pillow made of Wind Fairy Wings. His last thought was that his head was hitting a paradise of softness.
He dreamed of clouds.
Sara felt relieved that they would talk the next day. She had many questions for her master.
Every word from him up until now had contained interesting new teachings, from 'following your heart,' to how to identify beasts from their markings in the forest, to how to track people without using spells, to how to fight in a ruthless way, and now, how obstacles helped with growth.
He hadn't been the one to speak about obstacles to her directly, but she knew that her master doted on the warrior for some reason and she had never heard the warriors in the family preaching such things before, even when she did an undercover operation among them.
Aaron's teachings resonated deeply within her. Literally. She was feeling it in her soul.
She had been shackled by her true name for too long, her beliefs and understandings on magic and on the world twisted by all kinds of orders. Now, she felt her soul getting stronger each day.
From a young age, she had been selected in a cutting-edge experiment. Lots of resources had been used on her to see how fast she could grow, and she became the youngest Champion in the family's history at the age of nineteen — not that anyone but the Ancestors knew that, and now Aaron had surpassed her, anyway.
But then, her growth had simply stagnated. Now, she recalled that a few weeks before anyone noticed the issue, she had gone on a mock mission, and it was the first one in which she was forced to kill an innocent just because she was ordered to for political reasons.
That had affected her heart and thus became an obstacle for her growth, one that was unsurpassable unless she could free herself from those who had made her do it. Now that it had happened, she was growing again.
That's what made her start thinking of him as her master even when he wasn't nearby and she was forced to call him so. Her stagnation that not even the family's Ancestors could understand, he had pointed out as if it was just some common teaching that could be found in any place.
Not to mention that he had saved her life from what she was beginning to see as unjustified enslavement.
Even if he turned out being a demon, wasn't he better than every other human on the planet who had never done anything for her?
He was the one who freed her, not anyone else! The family had shown a bit of goodwill towards her, but what did it matter when their goodwill couldn't save her? When such goodwill came after she was placed in danger because of them?
That night, she vowed to serve and protect him as long as he didn't do anything that she considered truly evil. Even if he was a demon, she didn't care as long as he didn't behave like one.
But first, she would take care of the Prophetess on the ground, who had fainted just after realizing how much blood she had on her.
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I'm Ed, a writer of GameLit. So far I have released only two books, but I'm working on increasing this number by tens! No, by hundreds! Maybe thousands! xP
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