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Chapter 084
Powerless

Zorian slowly awoke in his bed in Cirin. His head was fuzzy, his body hurt all over and he had trouble remembering what he had been doing in the previous restart. Confused and in pain, he remained lying in bed for a time, fading in and out of consciousness.

Gradually, his mind began to clear up and he started to get concerned. Something was wrong. Yeah, he was feeling absolutely terrible, but it was more than that. Something was subtly off about this situation, and it was really starting to bother him.

‘Oh, right,’ it suddenly dawned on him. ‘Kirielle didn’t wake me up by jumping on me. I woke up on my own with no one else in sight. That shouldn’t be possible unless something has gone very, very wrong…’

The moment he realized this, it was as if something clicked inside his mind and it all came back to him. The sudden visit of Quatach-Ichl, the theft of the dagger from the royal vaults with his help, the final battle they had against the ancient lich and the insidious soul attack he used just before the restart ended… the memories flooded into his mind suddenly and without end. The process was forceful and alien, as if something was shoving these thoughts directly into his brain with little regard to his wellbeing. The waves of pain and nausea radiating from his damaged soul suddenly intensified, and he barely managed to roll himself out of bed before vomiting his guts out all over the floor of his room.

Dimly, he was aware that Kirielle rushed inside when he started making noise and then rushed back out screaming for mother to come and help, but he was in no position to react to that. It took all of his strength just to remain conscious and weather the pain. His soul felt like it was going to split apart, and he instinctively knew that it would be a terrible mistake for him to black out at the moment. He and Zach had long theorized that their soul synchronized somehow with their body at the start of every restart, interfacing with their life force and rearranging their brains to account for the memories they gathered over the restarts, and it looked as if this was true… except that in its current state, it was no longer capable of smoothly completing that process. Without Zorian’s conscious efforts to stabilize his soul, it would not only ravage his body and mind but possibly also injure itself further in its fumbling.

If he lost consciousness now, who knew when he was going to wake up next? A small, panicked part of his mind feared he had already spent the majority of their remaining restarts in a soul damage induced coma, but he shoved that thought aside for now. This wasn’t the time to worry about that. For now, all he could do was grit his teeth and deal with the problem at hand.

He didn’t know how much time he spent in that state, shivering on the floor of his room as he fought to stay awake, but eventually Mother and Kirielle rolled him over onto a blanket and carried him off to a guest room to recover in. Somehow, he managed to persist through it all until his soul finally calmed down. When he finally recovered enough to talk, he found out that it was still the first day of the restart. He had failed to react when Kirielle came to wake him up, and stayed that way for about two hours before waking up. Mother and Kirielle seemed shaken at the severity of his apparent illness, and refused to let him get up and walk around on his own in the aftermath. They also called for a local healer to come and check up on him, which was very annoying yet perfectly reasonable in light of what happened, so he could hardly object to it.

Predictably, the healer failed to find anything really wrong with him. He was not a mage, just a local who knew how to recognize common illnesses and hand out appropriate potions in response. He failed to find anything seriously wrong with Zorian, so he simply suggested that they watch him closely for a few days to make sure it didn’t happen again. Mother was rather unhappy with his ‘uselessness’, but she did seem more at ease after receiving the diagnosis.

When they finally left him alone for a while, he decided to chance things and reached into his marker, even though he knew the action would aggravate his soul damage somewhat. He had to know how many restarts they still had left.

The marker told him he still had 25 iterations left, which caused Zorian to breathe a sigh of relief. He didn’t lose any of the restarts, it seemed.

Unfortunately, this was where the good news ended. The damage Quatach-Ichl’s last attack did to his soul meant that he was currently completely incapable of casting anything – attempting to perform even the simplest of shaping exercises caused his soul to radiate waves of pain and nausea throughout his whole body in protest. Though this would go away in time, he estimated it would take at least three months before he was back in his top form. Perhaps as much as four or five months if circumstances forced him to push things and he kept aggravating his injuries.

Zorian suddenly realized that he relied on his magic for practically everything these days. He had already forgotten what it was like to be a weak, mundane teenager. Even coming up with a plan for going forward that didn’t involve the use of a teleport spell was hard…

Damn it. He doubted Zach was any better off than he was, considering he had yet to visit Zorian after so many hours into the restart, so this was pretty much a total disaster. Even though they hadn’t spent any of the restarts in a coma, the inability to use magic was going to sharply limit their options in the upcoming restarts. There was no way they would dare approach Silverlake or Quatach-Ichl with an obviously damaged soul like this, for instance. Additionally, the ancient lich may be able to recognize the soul damage as having been done by himself in some fashion – Zorian had no idea how one would go about doing that, as he found no traces of foreign soul fragments in his soul, but he wasn’t a millennia-old lich like Quatach-Ichl.

He sighed. He had really underestimated the ancient lich. He probably should have been raging internally at the amount of grief he caused them, but in all honesty? Zorian found himself kind of impressed by the decisiveness and ruthlessness Quatach-Ichl had displayed. It took mere moments for Quatach-Ichl to decide, after seeing Xvim’s memories, that the time loop was real and that he should sacrifice everything to hit them where it hurt the most. Most people would be doubtful at the information they received or too shocked to think clearly, but Quatach-Ichl didn’t hesitate at all to sacrifice his own soul in an attempt to take them down.

Zorian could see the logic. Without Zach and Zorian mucking things up, Quatach-Ichl was pretty much guaranteed to get what he wanted out of the invasion of Cyoria, and potentially cooperating with them had little appeal to him. Possibility of betrayal aside, he was a thousand-year-old lich – what use did he have for a measly decade or two? Still, knowing all of this intellectually, and being able to disregard self-preservation in order to pull off a suicide move… those were two entirely different things. Zorian had no idea that a person could detonate the outer layer of one’s soul in order to launch a massive suicide attack on the souls of everyone in the vicinity, but even if he did, he would not have expected Quatach-Ichl to use such a maneuver after less than a minute of consideration. Zorian knew that he would be unable to act so boldly if he had found himself in Quatach-Ichl’s shoes, and it boggled his mind that a lich – people that are typically obsessed with personal survival at all costs – was able to steel himself into pulling off a suicide move so easily.

Well. Putting that aside, he suddenly realized he had a tricky problem on his hands. Namely, he had to find a way to convince Mother to let him go to Cyoria so he could check up on Zach. From what he remembered, the last time he failed to wake up in time it was due to the Sword Diver attack in one of the restarts, and he had to remain in Cirin for the rest of the month to make Mother calm down and let him out of her sight. This time the situation looked much worse, and he needed to convince her to trust him far more than she had been willing to the last time around.

He could already feel his headache getting worse.

* * *

It took two whole days of constant nagging and arguments before Zorian was able to convince Mother to let him go. He thought about just boarding a train when she wasn’t looking, but the look in her eyes made him suspect she would drop everything and follow after him if he tried that. She could be remarkably stubborn that way. Strangely, it was Father who ended up helping him by arguing in his favor. He actually seemed impressed that Zorian was willing to push through his sickness and keep attending classes, and ended up helping him convince Mother to let him go to Cyoria. It was a very surreal experience to Zorian, since he couldn’t remember the last time his father took his side or approved of his choices. He didn’t know how to feel about that.

In any case, Mother eventually relented on the whole issue, though she did insist he take Kirielle with him. So she could ‘keep an eye on him’, supposedly. It was amusing to see her pause in surprise when he immediately agreed to her request.

The journey was a bit of an unpleasant shock to him. Robbed of his magic and still plagued with phantom pains and tremors, he struggled to carry their luggage and they both ended up getting caught in the rain for a while before they sought shelter in a nearby inn. He ended up renting a tiny, overpriced room for a single night, since the rain wouldn’t be stopping any time soon.

Kirielle wouldn’t stop complaining about getting wet for nearly an hour and screamed like a baby when she saw a particularly large cockroach crawling along the wall of their room.

Being unable to access his vast magic abilities was an unusual and very unpleasant experience.

The next day, he brought Kirielle to Imaya’s place. Thankfully, she did not make too much of an issue out of their arrival, even though Zorian had not arranged for anything with Ilsa in this particular restart.

Then he went searching for Zach.

He quickly realized this wouldn’t be as easy as he imagined. Zach was, he soon found out, officially missing. Tesen Zveri, Zach’s legal guardian, was organizing a search for him and called for anyone who had any information about his whereabouts to contact him immediately.

That was… very familiar. Almost nostalgic, really. It was pretty much the same situation that he had faced during the first few restarts after he got pulled into the time loop.

He wondered what that meant. Was this some kind of additional time loop safeguard that kept the controller gone until they recovered, or was this just Zach’s guardian freaking out about finding a comatose Zach and faking a disappearance? Personally, Zorian would bet on the latter. Quite a few people apparently knew how inappropriate Tesen’s handling of Noveda’s affairs was, so if Zach were to fall mysteriously unconscious all of a sudden, he would be one of the prime suspects. Zorian could totally see Tesen fearing that the coma would be blamed on him and faking a disappearance until he can decide what to do, much like Jornak did with Veyers.

In any case, it was relatively easy to prove which one of the options was correct. Zach and Zorian both had a marker with an identical key, and Zorian knew a tracking ritual that would let him locate his fellow time traveler with ease.

All he had to do now was find someone to help him cast it. Because he was currently incapable of doing it himself.

Gods, he hated this restart so much…

* * *

The room was silent. Zorian was supremely calm and collected, staring Xvim right in the eyes despite the look of annoyance present on his mentor’s face.

“So let me see if I got you correctly,” Xvim said. “You are a time traveler, you fought a millennia-old lich with Zach in the previous version of this month that I can’t remember, your soul has been damaged so you conveniently can’t demonstrate any of this amazing magic you apparently know and now you want me to help you rescue Zach from the evil clutches of Tesen – his legal guardian who is secretly behind his recent disappearance, despite organizing a nation-wide search for the kid.”

Zorian considered it for a second.

“Yes, that’s pretty much what I’m saying,” he nodded.

“Get out of my office.”

* * *

Ilsa carefully studied the stack of papers in front of her, one hand propping up her chin while using the other to slowly tap her finger against the desk in a steady rhythm.

Zorian patiently waited for her to finish reading. If this didn’t work, he would have to take a risk and seek magical assistance through black market channels. Dealing with criminals while being essentially powerless was taking quite a bit of a risk, but there was nothing he could do. He needed to know what was going on with Zach.

“So all I need to do is cast this spell on you and tell you what the results say?” Ilsa eventually asked, giving him a suspicious look.

“That’s right,” Zorian nodded.

“It looks like a tracking spell,” she noted.

“It is a tracking spell,” Zorian confirmed.

Ilsa raised an eyebrow at him.

“Dare I ask what it’s supposed to track, then?” she asked.

“It’s kind of personal,” Zorian said, doing his best to look depressed and desperate. “I’m afraid my friend has gone missing. Please, Miss Zileti. You know I’m not a troublemaker student and I don’t ask for much. It… it would mean a world to me if you did this for me!”

Ilsa snorted derisively at him.

“Hmph! You need to work on your acting skills, Mister Kazinski,” she told him. “That aside… I had professor Chao tell me about a strange little visit from you recently.”

Ugh. He was still kind of annoyed that Xvim was so unwilling to entertain his claims. Being implausibly good at magic was apparently really important for convincing the man there was something to his crazy time travelling claims. Well, convincing him quickly, in any case. He could probably wear down the man’s skepticism with a lot of time and effort, but he didn’t want to wait that long to tackle this problem.

“Is this friend of yours Zach Noveda, perhaps?” Ilsa tried after he didn’t say anything for a while.

“He could be,” Zorian shrugged.

“Zorian…” Ilsa sighed, folding her fingers into a triangle in front of her. “Putting aside that I have never really heard of you interacting much with mister Noveda in the past… what if you’re right? What if Zach has really been kidnapped by his caretaker and taken somewhere? I cast the tracking spell and give you the location. What do you do with it? How can an academy student like you handle the guards and the security measures that this place would undoubtedly have and rescue Zach?”

Zorian internally debated the merits of explaining to her that his plan was to simply hire black market mercenaries to do the parts he himself could not, but eventually decided it was a bad idea. He had no real excuses in regards to where he got all the money needed to hire such people or why he thought he could judge their skills and character well enough to identify which of them are worth hiring and which aren’t.

“You don’t have to worry about it,” he told her, giving her a reassuring smile. “I’m just trying to find a friend. I’m sure it won’t be all that difficult.”

She gave him an unamused look. Yeah, he probably should have just gone to the black market right from the start instead of bothering with this…

Contrary to his expectations, though, she didn’t just throw him out of her office immediately after.

“Give me two days, okay?” she eventually told him. “I need to speak with the academy leadership about this.”

“Huh?” Zorian said, surprised. “I’m not sure I understand. Why would you need to kick this up so high? It’s just a tracking spell…”

“And let you get in over your head and disappear as well? I don’t think so,” Ilsa said. “If we’re going to do this, we may as well go all the way. Besides… mister Noveda is a student of our institution. It is well within our rights to try and locate him if he goes missing.”

She pushed the stack of papers towards him and tapped it a couple of times for emphasis.

“Now…” she said, “explain to me how exactly this tracking spell works and why you think it can find mister Noveda when so many professional diviners have tried and failed to do the same.”

* * *

It was fascinating to watch how quickly and effectively the academy could mobilize itself when it really cared about something. Perhaps it was because the House Noveda had some secret ally among the academy leadership or because the academy saw the whole situation as a chance to score some free reputation points, but they really did assemble a team to go check up on the location Zorian would provide them with.

He’d be lying if he said he wasn’t a little intimidated by the attention suddenly directed at him. For one thing, he wasn’t actually completely certain the tracking spell would work. While he personally didn’t think it very likely, it was still possible that Zach’s disappearance was really just some sort of time loop safeguard and that he was literally nowhere to be found. It would be quite awkward if that happened.

Thankfully, the tracking spell worked just fine. Zach was just outside of Cyoria, in one of the smaller private estates that technically wasn’t owned by Tesen but could be connected to his family if one looked deeper. The group assembled by the academy immediately stormed the place, presenting official-looking authorization documents when questioned about their motives and identity. There were guards in place, but they were apparently not paid enough to face off against a numerically superior force from a well-known institution and they quickly decided to stand down and give them free rein. The secret basement Zach was being held in was cunningly hidden, but since Zorian was there to serve as a living tracking device, it was simple enough to find it anyway.

Zach was in a soul-damage induced coma, just like Zorian expected him to be. Due to his inability to cast anything, including soul diagnosis spells, he couldn’t be sure why Zach had ended up in a worse state than he did, but he had his suspicions. Zach’s control over his own soul was much weaker and cruder than Zorian’s, as was his ability to retain mental discipline. If he woke up early on in the restart like Zorian did and had to fight to stay awake and prevent his soul from going berserk…

Well. Even Zorian found that struggle to be a challenging one.

In any case, Zorian was now presented with a new problem. Even though he had been crucial in tracking down Zach, he now couldn’t access his unconscious body at all! The discovery of his unconscious body had kicked up a media storm that didn’t look like it was going to die down any time soon and he had been transferred to an expensive hospital and placed under guard. Zorian was not a family member, nor did he have any other known links to the Noveda heir, and many people were suddenly questioning his involvement in all this. The academy was taking his side for now, but Ilsa told him things were a bit delicate at the moment. Tesen was trying to distance himself from the matter, bitterly denying he had anything to do with Zach’s coma or imprisonment outside of Cyoria, and his faction pushing hard for Zorian to be arrested so he could be ‘vigorously questioned’.

No matter. Even if Zorian could see Zach, what would he do with his unconscious body? Before he visited Zach in the hospital, he had to figure out how to accelerate his healing. Who knew how long it would take for Zach to wake up if he had to rely on his natural rate of recovery? Fortunately, this was something he could actually tackle with his current abilities.

Sudomir, just like many necromancers, often ended up damaging his soul in various ways while training and practicing his craft. As such, he had invested a lot of time in tracking down methods of accelerating his recovery, and Zorian had made sure to steal most of these out of his head during their interrogation sessions. A lot of these were purely personal soul magic exercises that were useful only to the soul mage using them, or complex ritual spells that he wasn’t capable of casting right now, but a few actually came in the form of potions that could be administered to others.

And alchemy did not require any mana shaping. His inability to do magic did not hold him back here in the slightest. So long as he could track down and buy the appropriate materials, he would be able to create the potions in question.

Getting materials for such a relatively exotic potion was anything but easy, of course. Many of them were not sold on the open market, and even if they were Zorian did not have enough money on him to buy them. He thought about robbing invader caches again, but his lack of magic made that a far riskier proposition than it usually was. Additionally, he had attracted quite a bit of attention to himself lately, so going out for a little midnight stealing was probably unwise. Thus, he ended up amassing the necessary funds the hard way – he bought a bunch of raw materials with his available money, made a handful of rare, hard-to-make potions with them, sold them for money, used that money to buy even more raw materials, and so on. It took him a week of that to get enough money to buy what he actually wanted, and then another four days before he had managed to track it all down and finished the potions.

The end result was three different bottles, one holding a milky white liquid, another a blood red syrup that looked as if it was constantly boiling and the last one a glossy, pitch black pill that floated in the center of the bottle as if weightless.

He took all three of them and departed in the direction of the hospital that held Zach. He was still not allowed to visit him, but who cared about that? Through a strategic use of sleep bombs and other disabling potions, he managed to gain access to Zach’s room, after which he proceeded to force-feed the three soul cures to his unconscious body, one after another.

He immediately left afterwards. It would take a while for the potions to actually take effect, and it would be best if he were far away from the scene of the crime when people found the trail of unconscious bodies he had left in his wake.

* * *

The news of the second ‘attack’ on Zach while he was in the hospital kicked up another round of controversy and several dramatic vows by the hospital staff and city authorities that the perpetrator was going to be caught any day now. Considering that not even Zorian’s worst detractors seemed to suspect him as the perpetrator made him rather doubtful of that claim, though. One amusing detail was that the hospital claimed they had caught the attacker in the act and ‘heroically fought him off’, which was why Zach supposedly hadn’t been hurt more as a result of the break-in.

While he waited to see what the result of his intervention would turn out to be, Zorian looked into what had happened to Alanic, since the battle priest was one of the few competent and reliable soul mages he knew of. Sadly, with Zorian being unable to teleport and busy with the whole Zach situation, he never did intervene to save Alanic from Sudomir’s assassin, so by the time he checked up on him the man was already dead. Frustrating. It did make him kind of curious how those assassins were even capable of killing someone of Alanic’s caliber. Investigating the case a little revealed he was essentially ambushed while sleeping, allowing his attackers to kill him before he even realized what was going on. That… kind of made sense, yeah. If Zorian saved Lukav, Sudomir panicked and acted prematurely, trying to kill Alanic through sheer force before Lukav could contact him and tell him someone was killing people like them. If the assassination of Lukav went through without issues, Sudomir would act with due caution and planning and kill Alanic in his sleep.

In any case, the treatment worked far better than he had hoped – four days after he fed Zach those potions, his fellow time traveler woke up from the coma. Not long after that, he demanded to see Zorian, which pretty much shut down any further attempts to keep Zorian from visiting the hospital.

“How are you feeling?” Zorian asked his fellow time traveler.

“Like crap,” Zach grumbled. He gave Zorian a suspicious look. “I heard you’re the one who tracked me down after my asshole caretaker just stuffed my unconscious body down in some basement. I guess I should thank you for that, but… how are you so much better off than me? Did you not get caught in the blast or something?”

“You know our conversation is probably being eavesdropped, right?” Zorian asked him.

“So? Just put up a privacy ward on the room and be done with it,” Zach told him.

“I can’t,” Zorian sighed. “I can’t really cast anything right now.”

Zach was quiet for a few seconds.

“Ah,” he said finally. “I guess you didn’t get off as lightly as it appears. You probably don’t want to hear this, but that kind of makes me glad. I kind of prefer it when you have to suffer through this crap with me.”

“Jerk,” Zorian said, though there was no real heat in it.

“Yeah, yeah… but seriously, why are you already walking around while I can’t even stand up without vomiting all over myself?”

“I’m not sure, but… do you perhaps remember waking up in your own room for a moment before losing consciousness again?” Zorian asked him.

Zach frowned.

“It’s hard to remember,” he said after a few seconds. “Maybe?”

“Hm. Well, we’re going to have to continue this particular topic when you get out of the hospital,” Zorian told him. “Can you estimate how long it will be before you’re back in top form?”

Zach frowned. “I don’t know. Four, five months? Something like that.”

Zorian breathed a sigh of relief. Although Zach’s condition was worse than his own, it would seem it still wasn’t too bad…

“Is there something urgent you need right now?” Zorian asked him. “As you can imagine, my ability to acquire things is a bit limited at the moment, but I’ll do my best.”

“All I want right now is to be out of this damn hospital,” Zach grumbled. “But I don’t think that’s going to happen before the end of the month, considering what I’ve overheard, and neither of us has the ability to force the issue right now.”

It was as Zach said. He spent the rest of the restart trapped in the hospital while Zorian had to dodge increasingly insistent questions about his involvement in the ‘Zach affair’ and his personal activities.

Thankfully, before those things could really get anywhere, the summer festival had arrived and the restart came to an end.

* * *

The next five restarts were relatively relaxed. With their souls so heavily damaged and their spellcasting impaired, Zach and Zorian couldn’t really do anything particularly dangerous or strenuous, lest their recovery be prolonged even further or their soul damage become permanent.

Whether it was Zach or Zorian, they had no choice but to patiently wait for their soul to heal, so they gave up on doing anything serious and decided to just have fun and work on some of their easier skills. A part of Zorian was aghast at taking a break with their time steadily running out as it was, but forcing themselves would gain them little while risking a lot so he did his best to suppress it.

Unexpectedly, having his soul damaged actually ended up being quite a boon to Zorian’s skill with soul perception and soul magic in general. It allowed him to map out his soul in far greater detail and enhanced his understanding how souls generally functioned. There were some things that were very hard to notice when things were going smoothly, and some pieces of the soul were far easier to comprehend when one compared intact and damaged versions of the soul to one another. He knew from reading Sudomir’s mind that necromancers often deliberately mutilated other people’s souls for that exact reason, destructively studying the anatomy of the soul to enhance their own skills, but one could never really perceive foreign souls on the same level of detail as one could perceive their own. As far as Zorian knew, no soul mage was crazy enough to deliberately damage their own soul as heavily as Zach and Zorian had gotten theirs damaged just to enhance their knowledge of soul mechanics, so their current opportunity was somewhat unique.

Although Zach started from a lower level, his skill in regards to personal soul perception also grew by leaps and bounds in this period, since he invested a huge amount of effort into it – much more than Zorian himself. The fact that he had ended up worse in the wake of Quatach-Ichl’s soul attack seemed to have affected him greatly.

Aside from soul magic, the two of them also worked on their basic shaping skills and tinkered rather heavily with alchemy, since this was the one magical discipline that hadn’t been affected by their injuries in the slightest.

They didn’t try to inform anyone of the time loop during this time. Most of the notebooks and other gathered information had been stored in the palace orb, which they couldn’t actually access at the moment. They still interacted with many of the people they previously worked with, but mostly for the sake of fun and hanging out this time.

They spent an entire restart diligently going to class, being as helpful as humanly possible to every teacher and student they encountered. They spent a restart shapeshifting into various animals through transformation potions and explored the city and its surroundings through alien senses and perspectives. They dabbled in painting, sculpting, wood carving, drawing and various art skills. They went on a tour of Eldemar and its neighbors via train and other mundane methods.

And when the last of these relaxing restarts was drawing to a close, Zorian realized he wasn’t sorry for it all. Even though they kind of wasted their time, even though they would only have 19 iterations left once this restart was finished… he was at peace with it all.

“We really need to give it our all in the upcoming restarts,” Zorian said to Zach one day. “19 restarts aren’t that much and we never know when something like this can happen again. If we had gotten this injured with only a handful of restarts left, that would have been the end of us right there. Do you think we should still mess around with Quatach-Ichl after this?”

“Hell yes,” Zach said firmly. “I mean, yeah, he really got us good this time, but we still haven’t figured out a good way to break into the royal vaults without his help. And besides… while he ended up messing us up, he also showed us a really good way of taking him down with relative ease.”

“Oh?” Zorian asked curiously. “And what would that be?”

“See, I think we’ve been overthinking things a little,” Zach explained. “Instead of trying to lure Quatach-Ichl into a trap of flooding him with golems and enemy mages, we should be relying on our strengths to defeat him. Well, your strengths in this case. I’m talking about mind magic, of course.”

“Mind magic?” Zorian said, stunned. “But with his mind blank on…”

“Xvim also had his mind blank on and it didn’t stop Quatach-Ichl,” Zach quickly pointed out. “It would be tricky, but if we time things right and I get a moment to concentrate properly, I’m pretty sure I can hit the guy with a powerful enough dispel to get rid of his mind blank. Just for a moment, but that should be enough for you, right?”

“I’m quite sure that Quatach-Ichl has some measure of skill with defending his mind,” Zorian said carefully. “The fact he was able to search Xvim’s mind so quickly in the heat of battle shows he’s quite proficient in mind magic. Still… I don’t think he’s psychic and the brief telepathic clash I had with him didn’t impress me much. I suppose it could work.”

“It will work,” Zach insisted. “Your mind magic is terrifying, and I bet it has been centuries since Quatach-Ichl has been targeted by a mind mage he couldn’t kill in under a second. So long as we can stop Quatach-Ichl from murdering you before you finish subverting his mind, I think this could work amazingly well.”

“You say that like it’s such an easy thing,” Zorian sighed. “But you’re right, that is an interesting idea. Certainly better than fumbling wildly for a solution like we have been doing thus far. I kind of suspect Quatach-Ichl has rigged his soul to be withdrawn back into his phylactery if his mental defenses are ever seriously breached, though. That’s what I’d do in his place.”

“That still means we get to pick up the imperial crown from his abandoned skeleton, though,” Zach said with a shrug. “That’s the only thing we truly need from him. Everything else is just a bonus.”

Zorian supposed he was right about that.

* * *

The next restart they decided to spring back to work and get their plans back on track. Their souls were fully healed as far as they could figure out and they didn’t have too much time to waste. Thus, they quickly established a simulacrum link to Koth and Xlotic, recovered the palace orb, stole the Pearl of Aranhal, and then boarded their brand new airship and set off towards Blantyrre.

It would be a long and dangerous journey. Blantyrre was the largest of the world’s continents, but it was separated by miles and miles of open sea from the nearest human port. Just making sure they stayed on the right path was a problem, since the endless expanse of water provided few clues as to whether or not they were going the right way and neither Zach nor Zorian were proficient in this kind of navigation. On top of that, the shortest path to the continent, which they pretty much had to take, passed uncomfortably close to a large island inhabited by dragons, Hundreds upon hundreds of dragons. It was called, somewhat unimaginatively but accurately, Dragon Island.

Dragons generally weren’t fond of humanity, and the dragons of the so-called Dragon Island were especially belligerent. They not only killed any human that tried to disembark on the island itself, but actively patrolled the waters around it for any passing ships. If they spotted any, they demanded ruinous tributes in exchange for not destroying the vessel. Zach and Zorian had asked around to see what the dragons found fitting to their tastes and were prepared to pay the tribute for their safe passage, but the airship was very eye-catching and dragons were known to be capricious at the best of times. It was best to prepare for a fight just in case, and a dragon was always a headache to fight.

On top of that, some of the sea monsters were known to be able to attack aerial vessels, firing jets of water and energy attacks at things flying above them. It didn’t happen often, and the Pearl of Aranhal usually flew quite high in the air, but it meant that Zach and Zorian could never fully relax and had to be constantly on the lookout for potential problems.

Still, things were finally moving again and that was the important part. They would make the attempt at the dagger and the crown again in this restart, and they would lay down the groundwork for finding the location of the staff as well.

In the meantime, they were about to establish contact with Quatach-Ichl again. It was time to arrange for a trade…

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