Chapter 29 - Planning
Aaron canceled all his spells and sighed. Whatever the Prophetess wanted to talk about, he would probably not like it. He wanted to make sure he had as much mana as possible during that talk, just in case things went awry.
Mages recovered their mana in two ways. First, passively absorbing ambient mana from around them. That way would allow Aaron to recover his mana in around two hours. Second, actively absorbing from any source. The source could be the very environment around them, too, or any place that had mana.
The rate of absorption differed for each source, the kind of mana it contained, and how compatible the mage was with that mana. As a master of all elements, Aaron didn't need to care for the kind of mana or its compatibility with him. Only the source mattered to determine how fast he could absorb it.
Obviously, he had prepared for a situation when he quickly needed to absorb mana. The mana crystal coins were valuable also because they allowed for a relatively quick mana absorption rate, and he had many loars — Lower Artifact mana coins — at ready.
Each loar could hold as much mana as a Champion's mana pool and he could absorb it to recover his own mana in little more than ten minutes; in any world, money, or the right resources, equaled to power. He had ten loars prepared, so he was somewhat covered unless he was forced to spend mana fast enough that not even mana crystals could restore it.
This time, he would just let his mana recover naturally. No need to waste his resources if there was no clear danger in front of him.
He also wouldn't waste the chance to give everyone false data on his regenerative capabilities. Four hours later, double the time he actually needed, he left the bedroom.
Helina and Sara were sitting on a metal chair by a table in the middle of the common room. That furniture hadn't been in there before, so one of them had taken it out of their spatial treasures. Since the furniture was too crude, he didn't think it belonged to the pampered Prophetess.
He guessed that the reason Sara was there was that the yelling from before had awoken her. If she had even slept at all, of course, as mages didn't require sleep.
Shadow One and Dark Fox were nowhere to be seen. Aaron hoped the man hadn't been killed for knowing too much, or he would have to avenge him in the future. Killing Crusaders was bad business for a Champion though.
Mark was also not there, but his snoring could be heard coming from a bedroom. Aaron smiled. The man should be absolutely exhausted. If it wasn't for the slow walks on the Unleaving Forest, which Aaron used to help with his physical conditioning, Mark would've probably fainted from the walking and the heat the day before.
Aaron went to the table and sat on the remaining chair.
Sara stood up and bowed slightly. "Good night, master," she said with a smile.
"Good night," Aaron replied with a nod. "Oh, right. As I told William," he used Mark's fake name, "you should call me young master, not master, or people might find it strange."
She nodded back. "As you will it, young master."
"Good." He looked at the Prophetess, while Sara stood behind Aaron, a little to the side, exactly like expected of an attending maid. "So?" He asked Helina.
Helina looked upset at his tone but replied with a pleasant voice of her own. "Would you care for enlightening me as to how a small kid like you can act like a grown man?"
Aaron raised an eyebrow. "You woke me up for this? Couldn't you have waited until morning?"
The Prophetess at least had the decency of blushing, realizing her impatience. "It's done already," she said without offering an apology. "We might as well get it done."
He sighed. "Very well. I can't tell you everything, for I'm too weak and my enemies would crush me in an instant if they discovered me." The Cage around the Universal Core was sentient and wouldn't just allow him to live if he admitted to being against it. "What I can tell you is that I'm not a kid, I'm not possessed, and I'm not a demon."
"That explains nothing," Helina said.
"I know," Aaron said. "But what you think of me doesn't matter to me. If you decide to attack me, the Crusader will crush you. At least I hope so since she seems keen on protecting me, enough to face three Eminences at once for my sake."
Helina shook her head. "I want to help you, but I need to confirm you're not a demon," she said.
"If my word isn't enough, what is?"
"Your soul," she said. "Allow me to check it, together with your memories."
Aaron laughed. He remembered the last person who had tried to read the memories from a being with eons of existence. The person had got so overwhelmed that he became crazy, literally. Luckily, with his grade 12 soul resistance, he could resist any mind reading and he would do so for the sanity of the Prophetess.
"What are you laughing about?" She asked with displeasure.
"I have no problem with it," he lied. "Sadly for you, there's no way you can do it. You're welcome to try if you want. Look, I'll even remove all my items, just so you'll be sure I'm not depending on any of them to resist you."
He stood up and removed his clothes, his necklace of spatial rings, and the rings on his hands. Completely naked, he sat on the table. He only left a couple loars on the table beside him, just in case he had to defend himself and restore his mana while on it.
"Oh, you're welcome to try too, Miss Shadow One," he said, looking nowhere in particular. He couldn't feel her, but he had no doubt at all that she was watching him from somewhere. There was no way she had been reading Shadowfox's memories until now.
Just as he expected, she appeared out of thin air, still wearing her armor that only showed her face. She had been standing in a corner of the room the whole time.
Helina's eyes widened yet again, seemingly not believing Aaron had agreed just like that.
To be fair, Aaron should be upset by anyone asking for him to lay his soul bare for them, but Helina's request was perfect for him to check on Shadow One's soul. She would have to use her own soul to try to invade his and he might use it to determine whether she was a golem or not.
Besides, he expected her to check on his soul sooner or later. It would be better if she tried to do so in a controlled environment.
Thirdly, he had a hypothesis about her true power and it might be the chance to confirm it.
The Crusader wordlessly touched his head, Helina hurried and did the same.
Aaron felt wave after wave of mana entering his body and soul, scanning every single part of it. Some of it was painful, some of it injured his body, and some of it tried to injure his soul, too.
Helina's and Shadow One's soul were completely different. It wasn't about form, both would look humanoid if he looked at them. It was about what they were made of, their textures, how they felt when touched.
Helina's soul behaved like a human's. It was malleable, flexible, had some softness to it.
But Shadow One's power was like a huge rocky mountain hitting him! It didn't necessarily mean she was a golem, but golems' souls were constantly tempered by the Earth and Metal Elements that the golems were made of, and thus they tended to feel like those elements.
What he felt next though, was even more important than Shadow One being a golem.
Helina only showed an Eminence's level of power. But Shadow One's power completely overshadowed Helina's.
She was an Ascender!
That was his hypothesis. When he saw Shadow One the first time and used Check Level on her, he saw that she was an Eminence with a veil to pass up as a Champion. However, during her fight, she managed to create a barrier to lock space that resisted the Eminence trying to destroy it, another barrier to resist the attack from two Eminences, and still mounted a counterattack.
She had tried to act burdened by the fight, but even Aaron wouldn't be able to do something like that if he was fighting other Champions in the same situation. There was simply no way he would have enough mana to withstand the all-out attacks from three other Champions in two different fronts, which showed that either he mana pool was too large or she had access to a treasure that aided her with it.
There was also the very strange fact that the Temple of Time's Ascender had immediately run away without even trying to save his companions as if he wasn't confident in being able to do so.
Since then, he had suspected her being more powerful than the average Eminence, and now he had confirmed it!
She was most likely a golem though, not a Mage. Her soul was likely from a human, which had been put in the golem, but she was like a beast, with access to magic in a different manner than humans. What magic exactly depended on many factors he didn't know of, like the materials used on her construction, the formations placed on her, what kind of core she was using, her elemental constitution, and even how long she had been functioning.
What he did know was that she had only shown Eighth-level spells when going against the Eminences, but Ninth-level spells when trying to infiltrate his soul. Maybe she didn't think he would recognize soul spells, or was too anxious about doing it, or even only had access to Ninth-level spells of the Soul Element.
Regardless, her mana pool was Ascender-level and she was bound to have some cards on her sleeve.
All of that meant he had to change his plans.
To begin with, he wouldn't be able to talk her into betraying her master and joining his side; golems were absolutely loyal to whoever controlled them. If she had been a Champion Golem, he might have tried to 'hack' her and forcibly take control of her, maybe even an Eminent Golem, but he couldn't do so to an Ascending Golem.
Also, the trap he required to deal with her should be fit for an Ascending Golem who might be a human Ascending Mage, and it had to be infallible, or she would kill him the moment it failed. But the only way to achieve that with his Champion power was by making her trust him enough to analyze her and understand what she was made of, so he could adapt his trap to her.
He wasn't sure he could make her trust him. He had ways to improve his chances, but he couldn't be sure.
He would plan for it, but he would also look for an opening to flee from her. Plan C would be borrowing an uncontrollable external power to deal with her while he fleed.
Thus, he formulated plan A, plan B, and plan C, and he just had to luck out with one of them to survive. Unfortunately, luck had to be part of his plans.
Meanwhile, Helina and Shadow One assaulted his mind repeatedly. He didn't protect himself; he merely didn't open his mind, and his soul resistance protected him passively. Strong dizziness and mental pain befell him while they tried to weaken his mind to invade it. If his soul was any weaker, his mind would've been broken by the powerful attacks.
In fact, despite Helina's attacks being of the Eighth-level, her attacks were almost as effective as Shadow One's Ninth-level spells. Aaron could vaguely feel that her mana wasn't coming from her body and guessed at her using a treasure to achieve that.
The process took hours. It had been a long time since Aaron was put under so much pain for so long, and he found it... Interesting.
Pain. He had long forgotten how horrible it could be. How effective its usage against weakly-willed people was. If he was just a demon and not a reincarnated Origin Immortal with eons of experience lapidating his willpower, he would've failed to resist the drilling spells.
As it was, he ignored it and used the opportunity to analyze all the spells that were used on him. Even though he couldn't see their signatures, by feeling their power, the mana they were made of, and their effects, he could analyze them to a degree and be inspired by them.
About three hours later, Helina gave up. Blood was coming out of her nose and ears and she was whiter-than-white pale. The failed attack had cost him dearly.
Two hours after that, Shadow One was the one to take her hand off of Aaron and step back. She, however, was looking perfectly fine.
Aaron immediately used a spell to heal his body, stood up and put his clothes back on.
"This is impossible," Helina whispered, then said aloud, "I saw what she did, how could you resist it?" She turned to Shadow One. "The power you used was-"
"Prophetess!" Shadow One said, interrupting Helina. "You will stand out of the Immortal Crusade's business, or I'll make you!"
Helina, who had recovered a bit in the last hours, paled again and shut up. Aaron confirmed then that Shadow One didn't think Aaron would be able to detect her true power through her soul attacks.
He finished clothing himself. "I told you that you couldn't do it." He smiled and decided to lay the bait for his trap before Shadow One became frustrated and attacked him directly. "Now, can we discuss the plans for the future? I'm sure the Immortal Crusade must be dying to know what I plan on doing with my life." He said provocatively and hoped it would keep her interest. "Sara, wake Mark and get Darkfox to prepare breakfast for us."
"Yes, young master," she said.
Shadow One frowned while looking at Aaron but didn't attack. He considered that a success.
Less than half an hour later, Aaron, Mark, Sara, Shadow One, Helina, and Darkfox were sitting around the table, which was filled with all kinds of food.
"This is delicious," Aaron told Darkfox. Although the food couldn't compare to some of the things he had eaten when he stood at the top of the universe, it was still great.
"Thank you, First Champion," Darkfox said.
Sara poured Aaron some juice as soon as he emptied his cup.
Aaron was surprised at her recent docility, but he had seen stranger things. The mind of people could work in mysterious ways sometimes.
Shadow One wasn't eating but looked more anxious by the minute. Aaron believed that he had postponed her next attack by speaking about his future plans, and now that her mental state was unstable it was time to lay the second, most important bait.
"Alright, people," he said with his mouth full. "Tomorrow, we'll start our journey to the White Sea."
Although it was called a sea, the White Sea was, in fact, a huge area covered by salt as far as the eye could see. Some believed it was a natural geographical feature, while others believed it had been created by magic. It was brimming with Earth and Metal mana, and many smith artificers had set up their workshops in there to increase the quality of their items.
"Are we visiting the Flying Continent?" Sara asked excitedly.
The Flying Continent was, as its name suggested, a huge landmass that floated somewhere in the almost endless oceans of that world. Each continent had portals that led there, with the portal of the Fire Continent located at the White Sea City. The portal was a big source of revenue for the city.
"No," Aaron lied; the Flying Continent was the escape plan he had decided upon, and a fort city on the way had the power he wanted to borrow. "I seem to find an enemy every other step of my journey and the best armor at a relatively close location can be found there, so I'll go and buy one. If I'm lucky, I can also find a flying ship with good defense. I miss my carriage dearly."
He turned to Darkfox. "I want you to deliver Firestar a message for me."
"I'm sorry, but I can't, sir," he said with an apologetic voice. "I have other matters to attend to."
"It wasn't a suggestion," Aaron insisted. "I'm ordering you as the First Champion, in the name of the Valdian Family, using the Urgency Protocol."
The Urgency Protocol was a tool available to any Notable Mage or stronger in the family, which allowed them to control any other person in the family as long as it was a life-threatening situation. It could override any other order except if an Ancestor told the family member receiving the order to ignore the protocol.
It wasn't an absolute order; both the people giving the order and the one receiving had to agree that it at least might be a life and death situation. If it wasn't, the one who gave the order would pay the consequences for it, and pay dearly. On the other hand, if it was but the person receiving the order didn't consider it so, that was the one who had to pay.
It worked that way to discourage fake usage of the protocol, while at the same time encourage family members to help each other in case of great need.
Dark Fox frowned at that. "I don't see any urgent issue in here, sir."
Aaron didn't hide his displeasure. "Are you kidding me?"
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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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