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Chapter 079
Crime and Evading Punishment

Although Aranhal widely advertised their new airship to their own populace and neighboring countries, actually seeing the Pearl of Aranhal took a bit of effort. It was located next to an important industrial town, but wasn’t actually in it. Instead, the construction site was placed outside the settlement itself, close enough to be supplied with relative ease but far enough to foil casual visitors.

The airship was currently grounded in an oval-shaped holding structure and surrounded by extensive scaffolding. Ringing that was a collection of storehouses, barracks, watchtowers and temporary housing for workers and overseers. Finally, the entire work camp was surrounded by a warded, alteration-made stone wall that stopped minor magical creatures or petty criminals from simply waltzing into the place. Neither this, nor any of the other, more subtle defenses could stop Zach and Zorian from infiltrating the place without being seen, of course. They were currently standing on one of the observation platforms attached to the ship, observing it.

Zorian had to say, the Pearl of Aranhal was a beautiful construct. Airships were often depicted as floating sea-going ships – an image that stemmed from the earliest known models, which really were simply modified sea-going ships. Ancient airship creators were working with a lower technological base and less developed economic infrastructure, forcing them to pick an already constructed vessel as a base for their project. Most modern airships, on the other hand, were built from the ground up as dedicated aerial vessels, so they rarely looked anything like a mundane ship. They tended to either have long cylindrical hulls covered in stabilizing fins or be some manner of a triangle. The Pearl of Aranhal bucked the trend there, in that it had a relatively flat, rhombus-like shape. It kind of gave Zorian an impression of a giant leaf. It certainly looked like it should be fast and maneuverable, but it made Zorian somewhat skeptical of the claim it was especially robust and durable by airship standards. Well, no matter. They wanted the ship because of its speed and flight endurance, not combat ability.

In any case, the airship’s name seemed particularly fitting in light of its current coloration. Its hull was painted in dazzling, pure white, with no overt markings or identifying patterns. This was meant to be only temporary, however. Aranhal intended to decorate the ship further before unveiling it to the waiting public, but they had yet to settle down on what kind of color scheme and decorations to put there. The question seemed quite trivial to Zorian, but was apparently an intensely divisive political question that caused many bitter arguments in Aranhal’s halls of power. The current overseer was continually kicking the can down the road in regards to the issue, fearful that whoever lost the dispute would try to cut the project’s budget out of spite.

“What do you say?” Zach suddenly said, rocking in place on his heels. He looked quite bored. “It’s about time, no?”

“Yeah, I guess,” Zorian answered. He was a bit nervous, he realized, so he may have been stalling a little. “I’ll go tell my copies to set the monkeys loose.”

He reached to his simulacrums through his soul, his ability to use his soul as a telepathic conduit as natural as breathing by now, and gave them a simple ‘go’ signal. They already knew what to do.

Golden triclopses were monkey-like magic creatures native to the area. They had bright yellow fur, two small horns on top of their heads and an extra eye in the middle of their forehead. Their third eyes gave them the ability to perceive magic in some strange, hard to understand way, which made them quite interested in magic items. Of course, being only as smart as regular animals and somewhat aggressive, their interest tended to be unhealthy for the magic items in question and the humans that owned them. Zach and Zorian had captured several groups of these beasts earlier to set loose as a distraction. They were particularly good for this because the construction team had already had a number of smaller clashes with the local triclops communities, and thus having a bunch of them making trouble in the base wasn’t immediately suspicious. They had tried this already in the three previous restarts to test the waters, and they knew that the guards would first move to contain the situation before wondering if someone had sent this unusually large group of them here intentionally.

By then, of course, it would be too late.

After the golden triclopses were set loose upon the unsuspecting base, Zach and Zorian remained in their current spot for a while, waiting. It would take a while before the creatures were discovered, the severity of the problem became obvious, and before the majority of the base’s guards were mobilized to deal with them. Zorian monitored the situation through his simulacrums, whose senses he could tap into with ease. His studies of the cranium rat swarms and the god-touched hydra living in the portable palace orb had done much to improve his ability to coordinate with his simulacrums. They weren’t quite a single mind yet, but he probably didn’t want that to begin with.

Zach also had simulacrums present in the base. He had only managed to get them working recently, so they tended to have far more quirks and differences from the original than Zorian’s own did. However, they needed those simulacrums if they wanted to steal the ship and it was pretty unlikely any of them would go insane and try to kill them, so whatever.

“There,” Zorian eventually said. “Everyone who was going to get pulled to deal with the monkeys is gone. It’s now or never.”

“Finally,” Zach said.

He didn’t say anything else, instead opting to jump down from the platform. Zorian followed after him with a sigh, giving the simulacrums the signal to drop whatever they were doing and converge on the ship. Even Zach’s simulacrums, since his fellow time traveler seemed to have forgotten about his copies in his hurry to get to the action. Or maybe he just expected Zorian to take care of that for him – it was actually easier for Zorian to coordinate Zach’s simulacrums than it was for Zach himself, due to his lack of easy telepathy. Though, since Zach and his simulacrums were largely identical in mind, it should be quite possible for him to use telepathy to communicate with his copies with ease, even if he wasn’t a natural mind mage like Zorian. He made a mental note to talk to Zach about that later…

Zach, Zorian and their simulacrums surged forward, pushing past the shocked technicians and civilian staff and disabling any armed resistance they encountered. Zach and his simulacrums broke down the scaffolding and the anchor beams that were holding the airship locked down while Zorian and his simulacrums went about installing the missing airship components and ejecting anyone that remained inside the ship.

It went… surprisingly well. Zorian was a little worried, since they were making this attempt only a few days into the restart and the preparations had been made in a considerable rush. He’d had to take a potion of vigilance and miss a night of sleep entirely in order to finish constructing everything in time, so he was technically doing this while staying awake for more than 24 hours.

They only had two significant complications. One was that some of the soldiers inside the ship had barricaded themselves inside a storage room and placed high-level mental wards on themselves after they figured out how Zorian was overrunning the crew so easily. Since Zach and Zorian couldn’t use anything too destructive for fear of damaging the ship, this made the resulting situation a bit of a chore to resolve in a timely manner. Thankfully, the golem bodies of Zorian’s simulacrums were capable of taking considerable abuse, so Zorian simply sent them in to swarm the soldiers with no regards to countering attacks. The result were two simulacrums with seriously damaged torsos and one that was missing both of his legs, but the problem was solved and the damaged simulacrums could still crew the ship just fine… though the legless one kept whining to Zorian about his predicament.

The other was that once every simulacrum and missing part was in its place and they tried to take off, the airship wouldn’t budge. It turned out that someone had installed an additional safeguard that none of the people Zorian had interrogated had been aware of, and Zorian was forced to frantically search for it while Zach repelled constant assaults on the ship from the reorganized Aranhali soldiers outside. Thankfully, Zorian eventually found the section the safeguard was in. Unfortunately, it was inside an engine regulation section, and integrated into it too deeply and too subtly for Zorian to remove it cleanly in the time they had left. Aranhali battlemages were no doubt going to start teleporting in any time soon, and then they’d be forced to abort the attempt. Thus, Zorian just torched the entire mechanism, allowing them to take off but permanently crippling some of the ship’s engines.

Now the airship was in the air, rapidly distancing itself from the construction site as it flew in the direction of the Xlotic interior. However, it was considerably slower than it should have been and there was another Aranhali airship chasing after them in pursuit. Zorian had no idea how that airship had gotten on the scene so quickly. Maybe it had just happened to be in the area when they made their attempt?

In any case, the two of them were currently in the main control room, trying to figure things out. While they had done their homework before coming here and had a rough idea of what operating the Pearl of Aranhal involved, it was one thing to have a theoretical knowledge of how something worked and quite another to actually put it into practice.

“You know, this thing is harder and less exciting to pilot than I thought it would be,” Zach said idly, poking and prodding the various levers and buttons on the control panel in front of him.

“I do know,” Zorian told him, a little grumpily. He was rapidly becoming aware of why Aranhali plans called for a dedicated navigator that would focus fully on charting a ship’s course. He was so fobbing off this job to a simulacrum the next time they did this… “Just focus on keeping the flight engines running and be glad you’re not in charge of navigation like I am.”

“I’m not so sure your job is that much harder than mine, considering you wrecked half the ship in order to get us in the air,” Zach remarked.

“It wasn’t half of the ship!” Zorian protested.

Zach laughed at him.

“So easy to rile up,” Zach said mirthfully. “Anyway, whoever designed this stuff should have really been pulled aside and told to cut down a little on the mysterious dials and counters. He should have put in some kind of magic panel or an illusion projector that would give you information in a more understandable form. Would that really be so hard?”

“I think you have a skewed image of how easy that kind of thing is,” Zorian remarked. “That kind of thing is neither cheap nor easy, and it would make it really inconvenient to fix things if something goes wrong. Dials and counters are simple to make and fix.”

“I guess,” Zach conceded. “It’s still annoying that we’re not even able to see the Aranhali airship pursuing us. One would think that an option to see a pursuing enemy would be one of the core features put into a control room. I should be able to say… I don’t know, something like ‘on screen!’, and have an image of the enemy projected on these windows in front of us.”

He gestured towards the large, clear windows that offered a breathtaking view of the outside world. Currently they could see nothing except the clear sky and the distant horizon, which sounded a little useless but at least it assured them they were flying straight, weren’t going to ram into anything and that the weather was pleasant enough to fly in. Pretty much what these windows were intended for, Zorian was sure.

“That would be kind of useful, actually,” Zorian agreed. “And while the airship itself isn’t nearly so convenient…”

He quickly performed three different divination spells, created a large illusionary screen in the air in front of them and then cast the final spell to integrate all of these into a semi-unified whole.

The illusionary screen rippled with prismatic colors for a second before settling into a three part screen. Two of them showed a scried image of the pursuing airship in different angles. The third one gave them a downward view from a vantage point high above the Pearl of Aranhal, allowing them to easily grasp the position of the enemy airship in relation to themselves.

“Nice,” Zach praised.

The other Aranhal airship was larger and more heavily-built than them. It had a more typical cylinder shape, and had a handful of cannons sticking out of its hull. The Pearl of Aranhal, on the other hand, was entirely unarmed. Even if they did have cannons of their own, they couldn’t use them, as they lacked the qualified gunners to make use of them.

Zorian wasn’t feeling very threatened, though. Despite the damage to its flight engines, the Pearl of Aranhal was still slightly faster than the other airship. The design was really proving its worth there. Gradually, minute after minute, hour after hour, they were pulling away from the other airship. Additionally, Zorian had diverted one of his simulacrums to see if something could be done about the damage he had done to the ship’s flight engines, and it seemed the answer was yes. In another two hours or so, their speed would shoot up and their pursuers would be left in the dust.

“Uh, not sure if you noticed it yet, but there is another airship in front of us,” Zach said, pointing at a distant dot that had yet to enter into the range of their scrying screen but could be seen through the mundane window of the control room. “Do you think they’re here by coincidence or…?”

Crap.

Some frantic divinations quickly revealed that the third airship was most certainly not there on accident. It was moving to intercept them, and both it and their old pursuer were making minor course adjustments in order to box them in better, apparently coordinating their moves. The strange thing was that the new airship wasn’t even owned by Aranhal – it belonged to the neighboring country of Mezner. The two countries didn’t exactly have the best relations with one another, so Zorian couldn’t help but privately wonder what Aranhal had promised to the other side in order to get them to help out. A lot, probably.

They really, really didn’t want to lose the Pearl of Aranhal, it seemed.

* * *

Previously, when Zach and Zorian were securing the Pearl of Aranhal and fleeing the scene with their ill-gotten gains, they had been trying to treat their enemies with as much mercy as possible. The Aranhal soldiers posted on the construction site were perfectly justified in being outraged at them, after all, so the two time travelers tried to disable their enemies non-lethally. To Zorian’s knowledge, nobody had actually died during the theft itself, though some people did get seriously injured and the golden triclopses might have killed someone after they had left. They even left the pursuing airship be, preferring to flee rather than destroying them, as they very well could have.

However, having been caught between two airships like this meant they could no longer afford to treat the situation with such velvet gloves.

Guided by Zach’s and Zorian’s hands, the Pearl of Aranhal promptly turned around to confront the Aranhali airship that had been pursuing them. If they had to fight, it was better to tackle their enemies one by one than wait for them to catch up to them together.

The Aranhali airship did not fear a confrontation. It knew that the Pearl of Aranhal was unarmed, and that Zach and Zorian were running it on a skeleton crew. Thus, it simply continued onward towards them, silently accepting the challenge.

It did not fire its cannons at them, though. Instead, six holes opened up in its hull and released a dozen or so giant eagle riders towards them. The eagles were overloaded with passengers, visibly straining under the weight of men they had to carry, but they flew fast nonetheless.

Simulacrum number two stood on the outer hull of the Pearl of Aranhal, studying the scene dispassionately. His legs were glued onto the surface of the airship to keep the wind from sweeping him away, and his golem body was unbothered by the cold. After sweeping through the incoming enemy forces once, he sent his memory over to the original for study and then put them out of his mind. They weren’t his problem. There were other simulacrums in charge of dealing with defense. His job was a bit more… proactive.

He flexed his hands and shook a little, just to make sure the previous battles hadn’t left some hidden injuries on him. The golem bodies that the original had made for them had been perfected to such a degree by now that they felt completely indistinguishable from their original form. However, the advantages of the golem bodies came with a hefty downside – if they were ever damaged, it was very hard to repair them, requiring a lengthy and expensive process. Poor simulacrum number four was still legless, for instance, though number two agreed with the original that his whining got really old after a while. If a normal simulacrum had had both of his legs blown off, he would have dispersed from the strain. The guy should be grateful he even still existed, not complaining about missing limbs.

His little checkup done, he calmed his mind and focused on the task at hand: counter-attacking the Aranhal airship.

They thought themselves safe because they thought their opponents had no weapons. But they were so very wrong…

Simulacrum number two teleported to the enemy ship. Teleporting from one moving target to another was tricky thing to pull off, and was beyond most teleporters… but it was entirely doable for Zorian, and therefore for his simulacrums as well. He couldn’t teleport directly into the enemy airship, but he didn’t have to – he teleported on top of the enemy airship’s hull, disintegrated a few panels to create an opening for himself and then stepped inside.

He didn’t even try to hide himself as he advanced through the corridors towards the airship’s flight engines. He didn’t have the time, and he had probably been discovered the moment he made a hole in the hull, anyway.

Three armed crewmembers quickly found him.

“Halt! Stand d-”

He was ready for them. A severing whip cut them to pieces before they could so much as fire a shot. He didn’t even slow down. He simply sped up, his divination spells having successfully mapped the interior, showing him where to go to reach his destination.

The severing whip trailed after him, attached to his arm, and when he came upon another group of people he used it to cut them down as well. It was a very efficient spell – the whip, once created, was pretty cheap to maintain – but one that was rarely used due to its short range and the possibility of the caster slicing their own limbs off if they didn’t have complete control over it. A bit brutal, admittedly, but the culmination of his task here involved crashing the entire airship – most of these people would end up dead in the end, no matter how you sliced it.

A hail of bullets impacted his chest but he simply ignored it, not even bothering to shield against them. His golem body was tough, able to shrug off minor attacks like those with ease. Spending mana to defend against things like that would be a waste.

When a dazzling, spinning bolt of fire swerved around the corner to slam into him, though… that he shielded against. The explosion was massive, blowing off all nearby walls and setting the air ablaze. If simulacrum number two had to breathe, this would have been a pretty devastating opener. Even as it was, it knocked him a little off-balance… and the mage that cast that spell soon rounded the corner to finish him off, before the aftershocks had the chance to die down.

The man moved incredibly quickly, using some strange telekinetic magic to ‘skate’ across the floor at high speeds. He was big and muscular, sported an impressive mustache, and wielded a large saber in his hand. Not a weapon Zorian was used to facing, as most mages avoided close-quarter fighting if they could help it.

The enemy mage immediately charged at the simulacrum using that strange skating movement magic, silent and grim. He swung the saber in his hands towards the simulacrum, its edge lighting up with an ominous red glow that made it clear he wasn’t dealing with a simple steel blade.

Number two admitted he had been caught off guard a little… but only a little.

He performed a short-range teleport to get behind the man, avoiding his charge, and then fired a trio of attack spells at him. Instead of stopping and turning, however, the man skated along the walls and ceiling of the corridor, keeping all of his speed and momentum. He even used that strange saber of his to harmlessly dispel the first spell Zorian directed his way – a force lance that Zorian had sent at him in hopes of breaking his momentum by forcing him to shield. The simulacrum had to admit that was pretty impressive.

The second spell, however, was a soul magic attack – a short-range wave of ghostly force that minutely disturbed the connection of the soul with its body, causing a wave of nausea and vertigo in those affected. The spell was weak, and it could be greatly attenuated by just about any shield spell, but since the man trusted his saber over a classical defense spell he was hit by the wave at full blast. He stumbled for just a moment, but that moment of weakness was enough for Zorian to launch his third attack on him.

The severing whip struck like a viper, severing the man’s head from his shoulders in one fell swoop.

Simulacrum number two stared at the dead body for a few seconds in total silence, before taking the man’s saber for later examination and continuing on his way.

He still had an airship to crash.

* * *

The battle between the Pearl of Aranhal and the two opposing airships got increasingly heated as time went by. At first, the two attackers were aiming to recapture the ship mostly intact, and thus attempted to board them with soldiers and mages. However, when Zach and Zorian had sent their simulacrums to wreak havoc inside the enemy airships, trying to bring them down from the inside, and then repelled several boarding attempts despite their numerical disadvantage, that attitude began to change. They started firing their cannons at them, and then began lobbing increasingly deadly artillery spells their way, forcing Zach and Zorian to spend a lot of their mana on defense.

When it became obvious that Zorian’s simulacrum inside their airship could not be stopped, the Aranhali airship tried to ram them out of spite before going down… sadly, they made the Pearl of Aranhal too well, allowing Zach and Zorian to maneuver out of their way long enough for simulacrum number two to destroy the enemy airship’s flight cores and send it crashing into the ground below.

Finding itself alone against them, the Mezneri airship then chose to simply flee. Unlike their Aranhal ‘allies’, they had no reason to pursue this to the bitter end. Zach and Zorian let them run, and simply breathed a sigh of relief before continuing on their way. Keeping a massive vessel like the Pearl of Aranhal intact in the face of double aggression had strained even them, and the airship had not gotten out of battle unscathed. Thankfully, none of the damage was critical, and further pursuers wouldn’t be able to catch up to them.

Indeed, for the next few days, they had been blissfully free of any enemy going after them. The fact that they were flying over the desolate, trackless desert that covered the interior of northern Miasina probably had a lot to do with that. The only dangers were an occasional pair of desert drakes that got too curious for their own good and tried to fly closer to check them out. It gave them quite a scare, because they had initially mistaken them for dragons when they had spotted them in the distance, but they were easy to chase off otherwise.

A bigger problem turned out to be locating an accessible Bakora Gate. They wanted to find one before continuing towards the Ziggurat of the Sun, to make it easier to gain access to the ziggurat in future restarts. Unfortunately, the maps of known Bakora Gates in the area turned out to be really outdated and unreliable. This area had been hit hard by the Cataclysm, and almost no humans lived here anymore. Some of the gates were just gone, possibly destroyed in one of the many wars that had swept through the area as the desert spread northward. Or maybe they never existed, and the mapmakers had put them there based on faulty sources. Some were buried under the sand and gravel and thus unusable for their purposes. Some were there, but not quite in the area specified by the maps – the mapmakers had only known the general area where the gate was located and made an ‘educated guess’ about the exact location instead of going there to actually check things.

Apparently mapmakers had been less concerned about quality control in the past. A lot less.

Still, they managed to find a suitable Bakora Gate after five days of flying around the desert. The time wasn’t entirely wasted, in any case – Zorian took advantage of his unrestricted access to the airship’s internals to inspect it in detail. He also took some of the equipment apart to see how it worked before putting it back together again, although he was forced to stop when Zach complained he would ‘break things even worse than he already had’.

In any case, once they had settled down on a Bakora Gate to use, they grounded the Pearl of Aranhal in the area before re-establishing contact with Eldemar. Zach had left one of his simulacrums there, so he could open a dimensional passage for them the same way Zorian used to do… except that he couldn’t contact his simulacrum telepathically through the soul, so they had to wait for a pre-arranged time of day instead of doing it on a whim.

There were a lot of things they had to do back in Eldemar. First of all, they had to secure the cooperation of the Silent Doorway Adepts in order to obtain the password of the Bakora Gate they had claimed. Their research into the method of operating the Bakora Gate had greatly improved the speed and reliability of the aranea opening ritual, but they still needed the web’s cooperation in order to make use of them. Thankfully, convincing the Silent Doorway Adepts to ally with them was a lot easier these days – the perfected opening ritual and the many new gate passwords they had obtained over the restarts made their words carry considerable weight. It usually took only a few days before the Silent Doorway Adepts were ready to work with them.

Secondly, they had to organize an expedition towards the Ziggurat of the Sun. Since the place was a Sulrothum stronghold, they couldn’t just fly in there as they pleased. They had a brand new airship, but Sulrothum could all fly. They had to scout the area, see if they could get Alanic on board, repair the Pearl of Aranhal and Zorian’s simulacrum-golems and then come up with a plan of approach after they had seen what they were working with.

Thus, Zach and Zorian reluctantly left their new airship out there in the desert, guarded only by a few simulacrums, while they went back to Eldemar to prepare things.

Hopefully nobody would try and take it while they were occupied elsewhere.

* * *

The room was packed. Everyone who was a part of their ‘conspiracy’, as Zach called it, was there: Kael, Taiven, Xvim, Alanic, Daimen… and Silverlake.

Silverlake had never taken part in these kinds of group meetings in the past. While they had managed to convince her the time loop was real and come to an agreement with her, she clearly didn’t trust them very much. She instructed them in pocket dimension creation and she worked with them to decipher the nature of the primordial prisons and the manner in which they were connected to the time loop reality and the real world… but she also kept trying to covertly spy on them and she was leaving coded messages to her future iterations inside her notes. Zorian couldn’t figure out what those coded messages were saying but he was sure they were there, even if Silverlake kept insisting he was just paranoid and making mountains out of molehills. She also stubbornly refused to make use of the time loop to work on her youth potion, but Zach and Zorian cared a lot less about that than she seemed to think.

In any case, the result of all this was that Zach and Zorian were both leery about trusting her too much and kept keeping her out of their greater plans and group meeting as such. However, that kind of thing couldn’t go on forever and it was becoming obvious that waiting for Silverlake to find something encouraging in the notes of her predecessors was an idle dream. They could only hope that if they extended a little more trust towards her (even though she sure hadn’t done anything to deserve that) she would eventually reciprocate.

Besides, their plans for the current restart were extensive and important enough that it didn’t feel right to exclude anyone out of the planning sessions.

It was interesting, though… Zorian had expected Silverlake to make a remark about Kael, since the morlock boy had indicated they had some kind of prior knowledge of each other when he had sent Zorian to talk to her, but Silverlake didn’t seem to notice him. It wasn’t that she was deliberately ignoring him as far as Zorian could tell; she just didn’t seem to perceive him as important or familiar. Perhaps she just didn’t connect the person with the face in front of her? Kael had no doubt been a child when they had last met, and he was a teenager now…

Regardless, while Silverlake did not recognize Kael, she definitely recognized someone else: Alanic. What was more, Alanic clearly recognized her as well. They faced off against each other for a full five seconds after they saw one another, just… staring at each other. Not saying anything. Then they looked away and pretended nothing happened. Since they didn’t say anything, Zorian pretended not to notice.

Currently, everyone was staring at Zach and Zorian with a complicated expression, momentarily struck speechless.

“That was you!?” Daimen exclaimed incredulously. “You’re the ones who did that airship theft that all the newspapers are talking about!?”

“That’s us, yup!” Zach said, nodding proudly. “We’re awesome.”

“That’s…” Daimen said, grasping for words.

“Reckless,” Xvim supplied.

“Stupid,” Taiven offered.

“Your idea,” Zorian said.

“Yeah, exact–” Daimen began, before registering what Zorian had said. “Wait, what?”

“Yup,” Zorian nodded seriously. “Totally your idea.”

“I assume you had a reason for doing that, then?” Alanic prompted.

“Of course,” Zach laughed. “We had the best reason. Gather round, children, Grandpa Zach is going to tell you all a story…”

Over the next half an hour, Zach told everyone involved what the point behind the airship theft was. Zach being Zach, he focused more on describing the exciting parts of the airship battle than the strategic goal of the theft, or their reasoning, but he did eventually manage to get the point across. They needed the airship in order to locate all the Key pieces in time. Without the Pearl of Aranhal, travelling across the Xlotic desert to reach the Ziggurat of the Sun would probably require multiple restarts due to the hostile environment and a lack of human towns where they could hire teleporters at. Additionally, they eventually needed to reach Blantyrre to collect one of the pieces, and traversing the vast amount of ocean that separates Blantyrre from the nearest human landmass in less than a month would be nearly impossible through alternative methods.

“It’s more than that, though,” Zach continued. “Not only is the airship we stole absolutely critical in getting us out of this time looping reality, it is also important practice for another theft that needs to happen.”

“More thefts, mister Noveda?” Xvim asked him, raising an eyebrow inquisitively.

“Well, yes,” Zach said. “After all, the dagger is held inside Eldemar’s royal treasury…”

“Oh heavens…” Taiven groaned, burying her face in her hands. “Zorian, are you seriously going to break into the royal vaults?”

Kael, who was sitting next to her, chuckled quietly.

“He kind of has to, doesn’t he?” he said, sounding a little amused.

“Since you’re mentioning this now, I’m guessing you intend to make the attempt at the royal treasury in this very restart, then?” Alanic asked.

“Yes,” Zorian confirmed. “Additionally, we also intend to try and wrest the crown from Quatach-Ichl, the ancient lich fighting for the Ibasans. Potentially, we could gather all but one of the Key pieces in this very restart. I doubt we’ll succeed in getting them all this time – hell, I wouldn’t even be surprised if we fail to get any of them – but it’s good practice and it should at least tell us what areas we’re lacking in and what we need to work on to succeed next time.”

“I see,” Alanic sighed. “I will be frank – I am not very comfortable with condoning such an act of treason. Considering what is at stake here, I will not stand in your way… but you should not count on my help in this regard.”

“Ha ha!” Silverlake suddenly cackled. “So righteous and serious! This is too funny! I still remember how you came to me back then, a budding little necromancer full of ambition and anger, asking for my help! It’s really hard to reconcile that memory with what you ended up becoming. A necromancer and a thief became a fervent priest and a patriot, now I’ve really seen everything in the world…”

Alanic stiffened slightly at her words and then gave her an angry glare. Silverlake just grinned cheekily at him. Taking a deep breath, Alanic rose from his seat and gave Zach and Zorian a frosty look.

“I think it would be best for everyone if I did not participate in this meeting anymore… or any other meeting where you planned how to best rob Eldemar’s royal family,” Alanic said. “And while I realize more than anyone that desperation can make one do things they rather wouldn’t, I have to warn you that you’re making a mistake by working with this old ghoul. You’re playing with fire. She will stab you in the back in a heartbeat if she thought it would benefit her.”

“Ah, I love you too, my little necromancer,” Silverlake said sweetly.

Alanic did not bother to respond to her, or even look at her. He simply turned around and left the room. Not quite stormed off, but it wasn’t quite far from it.

Zorian resisted the urge to bury his face in his hands. It always had to be something, didn’t it?

A long, uncomfortable silence descended on the scene. Only Silverlake seemed entirely comfortable with the situation, humming happily to herself and idly examining one of the experimental potions Kael had made. The meeting was happening in one of the alchemical workshops Zorian had made for the white-haired boy, so there were quite a few of them lying around.

“So,” Silverlake eventually began. “You were saying something about an ancient lich?”

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