Surprisingly for both of them, the kid didn't take them to the slums or the poorer districts. Instead, they ended up in front of one of the biggest buildings in the city. It was located a few streets away from the city lord’s mansion, the monolith and even the House of Myriad Transformations. One could say it was in a centric place, near all the important places of the city.
The building in question was almost 20 meters high, its front doors looked like the doors of a palace. They were three meters tall and were completely made of metal. And on top of the opened doors, there was a sign with the words “Heaven's Vault” engraved in golden color.
On the inside, the place was filled with stands and counters showing all kind of weapons, bottles with strange liquids, and pills. The weapons ranged from common swords to spears, with even the strange chains the people of the Empire were so fond of. As for the liquids and pills, some were made with healing proposes, while others were made to enhance strength. There was even a liquid to improve performance on the bed that seemed to be quite popular judging by the people buying it without shame. These people were all nobles, meaning that they had at least one relative that was a cultivator and had good standing in the empire. They could be only a branch family of the cultivator, but still, they gained good social standing.
Aleran was impressed, he didn't have the time to visit places like this. Not that he had the money to spend on weapons and pills either. But it was a good experience to visit this kind of places even if it was just to browse around. More so to someone who knew so little about this world like him.
While Aleran was taking the scene, the boy went to a bald man standing by the door. And after exchanging some words, the man threw him a few coins. Before departing, the kid wave at them while the man on the door approached them. He was wearing plain white clothes, but he wasn't doing anything to hide his strength. Making it easy to notice that he was a powerful cultivator.
“Well, this doesn't look like a trap but, where is the hot lady?” Kindrav whispered to Aleran who just ignored him.
“Greetings, my boss wishes to meet the two of you. Follow me.” The man only said that and never spoke again. It was like he didn't care if they actually followed. He guided them inside and into a circular stairway. They went up two floors and stoped on the third one, that was similar to the first but smaller and with only one counter that didn't have anything on display.
Unlike the first floor, the third was deserted. There was no one else besides two people standing behind a counter. One was clearly a man, but he was facing the other way. The only thing Aleran could see was that he was wearing a cyan robe and had golden hair. Besides that, he seemed to be cleaning some sort of antique with a small brush.
The other person was a woman, and Aleran immediately understood why the kid flushed when he mentioned her. She was a true beauty, probably the most beautiful woman he had seen since he got to this world. Maybe, on earth, she would be a little average, certainly not the most beautiful. But here, at least comparing to what he had seen til now, she was above average for Aleran. What struck him the most, was a lock of white hair that made a starking contrast with the rest of the black on her head. While the black contrasted with the pale of her skin that it was not a sick pale but the kind of paleness that made her look like a doll. That was without taking into account her body that made her look like a model.
“ Thank you, Inya. You can go back now.” A sweet, mellow voice came from the woman, reinforcing the image of beauty she gave. The bald man didn't even hesitate as he just bowed and turn around without even talking to Aleran or Kindrav.
“You will have to excuse him, he takes his job too seriously and sees everything as a threat.” The woman smiled and introduced herself. “ I'm Adra, sorry for making you travel all the way here.” Even as the woman introduced herself, Aleran noticed that the man kept looking the other way.
“Well, I must admit I'm quite intrigued as to why someone with such high standing as miss Adra would want to meet with us, two lowly commoners.” Kindrav was the first to speak.
Adra showed a charming smile. “That's because I know you two are not just commoners.”
“Oh? Then what are we for you?” Kindav said that with an easy tone but he stopped his approach to the counter, just like Aleran. They stopped halfway between the stairways and the counter. They knew it was probably useless to be careful inside the other party's lair, but it was better than nothing.
“Oh, don't worry boys. I know you are thieves and I know you have been working for the Crimson Claws for a few cycles at least. But I don't mean any harm to you two, in fact, this may be the opportunity you were looking for.” She answered with a wink at the end.
“For how long have you been keeping tabs on us and how much do you know? Why us?” Aleran was the one who continued the conversation. He wasn't in the mood to enjoy her pretty face anymore. They knew she had to know about the Crimson Claws. But she also knew what they did inside the Crimson Claws. And even though she hadn't said anything directly, judging by her words and the words from the kid it was obvious she knew their situation. Or at least she had a rough idea.
The woman shot a short glance at the man beside her, but he was still engaged in cleaning an old medallion. “Would you believe me if I say that I chance upon you two by coincidence and I got the gist of your situations from just watching for a short moment. Of course, after that, I watched over your… activities. Just to confirm my guesses.”
“That sounds fishy no matter how you look at it.” Said Kindrav squinting his eyes.
“Just sit here, and let's talk. Believe me, this is a good opportunity for the two of you.” Adra pointed to a few wooden chairs in front of the counter. “ Please, excuse the state of this place, it is too deteriorated and miles apart to our headquarters in the capital.”
Both of them sat up slowly and carefully, still not fully trusting the woman. The chairs, despite being made of wood did not feel too hard, in fact, they felt comfortable.
“You still didn't answer why us and what do you want.” Aleran kept pressing for answers.
“Well, it is like this, the Crimson Claws are stealing some of our business and we want that to stop. We were going to negotiate to make them back off, but my mas… but I spotted you and we came with an idea.” She briefly glanced at the man cleaning the medallion again and continued. “ You two are obviously using the crimson claws to obtain something you want and are not loyal to them. In fact, I noticed you despised them. Maybe we can collaborate and help each other. You have surely seen that it is not that easy to just use the Crimson Claws and that you won't be able to get out without help. Maybe if you help us, we can help you.”
“What can we do that you can't pay someone to do?” Aleran asked almost incredulous at the whole situation. This seemed too good to be true.
“Well to tell you the truth, we need to gather information. As infamous the Crimson Claw is, we hadn't pay much attention to them since nobody is so stupid as to anger the Heavens Vault. It was recently, that they had affected the sales of a certain drug we sell. They started selling a drug they call “the feeling” and it is a more potent, addictive and harmful version of a drug we sell. Our drug can help people to heighten their senses and makes it easier to connect with the source qi. While they sell their drug under the pretext that it does the same and better, for a cheaper price. Of course, that is a lie, it is the same drug but without the refining process, making it really harmful and transforms into addict at whoever tries it.”
After a short pause, she continued. “Now, we could pay someone to recommend some other agent that we also hired into the Crimson Claws. Then, make him slowly infiltrate into the Crimson Claws. And, we will probably do it in the future. But we still need more information on their inner workings and their infrastructure. Anything that could help us infiltrate or that can be harmful to them will be useful. From their chain of command and who to befriend, who is too loyal or who can be bought. That's why we need people that are not loyal to the Crimson Claws. And that's when you come in. With your information, we could slowly infiltrate them and then, find a way to eliminate them. Thus releasing you two from their grasp. ”
Adra was inwardly sighing, this was a half-lie she had come up with. The truth was that even she didn't know why her master had picked these two. But she couldn't tell them that, and much less, that this whole thing was probably a test for her.
But there was something else that her master told her recently that made her become more serious. Apparently, there was a real chance to earn something big if this went well. She knew that even though her master sometimes did things just for pure entertainment, he always managed to make a profit off everything. After all, her master was the most ambitious man in the world.
Aleran was without words. Everything was great but, why them? Just because she came across them by chance? there were probably many people working as external members of the Crimson Claws. This woman managed to answer his question without really answering it. ‘ Damn, and here I thought people from this world could learn something from politicians of earth.’ Aleran thought with exasperation. This woman has mastered the art of answering a question while not really addressing the main topic of the question.’
Seeing that she was not going to say anything more Aleran looked at Kindrav and whispered. “ What do you think?”
Kindrav just whispered back. “ I don't know, but we may be able to get something from this. Remember we still need the spirit stones to take the exam.”
Actually, they could take the normal test and get into the academy without any need of spirit stones. But that was only the normal test to be trained as a foot soldier. They would teach you one martial stance. And they would not give you anything more unless you accomplished something or after serving for at least two years.
But if they could pay the fee of 50 spirit stones each, they could take the elite test and would have more options and more resources. They will also receive a cultivation technique right from the beginning. Besides that, there were other perks, like access to the academy library and special training grounds.
After hesitating for a moment both Aleran and Kindrav nodded to Adra. “ What kind of information are you looking for?”
Adra smiled, this time her whole face lit up. “ You have made the right choice. Believe me, even we that know little about them are aware that most external members either end up as internal members or end up in bad situations. You must have noticed this too, right?” Seeing the boys agreeing, she continued. “As I told you, we need anything that can help us infiltrate or sneak out on them. All the inside information would do. Why don't we start with the reason why you joined the gang and what you have done till now. ”
Since these people knew they were thieves it was no big deal to tell them more. Skipping the ugliest parts and with a quick recount, Aleran and Kindrav explained their objective ad story. They also told her how they choose to rob to avoid the other, more ugly jobs, and how they got to their current situation.
“Oh, we can't help you to forge an identity. They must have some connections with some alchemists. That is worthy information on its own.” The woman's eyes glowed, making some sort of connection in her mind. “But we can help you with other things.” Said Adra after hearing their story
Aleran thought for a moment before speaking. “Don't worry about the IDs, if they want us to participate in the heist, they will make them and show them to us. As for the information, I could tell you about the big heist that is about to happen. But they say they won't tell us anything before the actual day in twenty days.” Then as if suddenly coming up with an idea, he said. “ What if I give you a detailed map of their underground network of tunnels in the next fifteen days? Would that work for you?”
Adra looked at Aleran with a strange gaze, while the man cleaning the medallion suddenly stopped swiping it. Even Kindrav was surprised by his last statement. Everybody knew of the underground tunnels and their many doors all around the city. People called them the gates to the underworld. But nobody knew exactly where all the doors were and much less the true extension of the tunnels. Even the inner members had restricted access to some areas. And Aleran wanted to map out the whole underground system in two weeks, that was insane.
The woman took a while to react, but she finally managed to say something. “That…that would be extremely helpful. It could even move or plans forward from a span of a year to a cycle or less.”
Aleran nodded. He needed this to be settled as soon as possible. Aleran was not willing to wait another year to get into the academy, he needed strength as soon as possible. He needed to feel in control of his life and learn more about this world, and the academy had all he needed for now. “Great, then we want to be paid in spirit stones, I don't know how much this information is worth, but I suspect it is a lot.”
“How about…” Suddenly, the man cleaning the medallion turned around and spoke. He was a handsome blonde man, who had a smile on his face that gave confidence and made one unconsciously trust him.
For some reason, the moment Aleran saw this man, he thought about Zarasen. There was nothing remotely similar between the two, but for some reason, his mind made an illogical connection for an instant.
After the small pause he made while turning and storing the medallion inside his robe, the man continued. “ Instead, we give you the method to break into the half step qi circulation realm. It is nothing fancy. But as you know, you can cultivate anything that, as long as it doesn't break your spirit veins, you can always pick a better cultivation technique and improve. You said that big heist was going to be dangerous, right? Then what is better than breaking through into the qi circulation realm, even if it's just half step into it. Think about it, that's the furthest you will get without officially joining an organization.” The man seemed to be the woman boss judging by how she wasn't even reacting at his sudden intrusion in their chat. She just stood there letting the man do the talk now.
Aleran looked at Kindrav who nodded. “Mmmm. Throw two hundred spirit stones above it and we have a deal.” Aleran didn't know the value of the technique, he may be doing the most stupid deal in the world. But both him and Kindrav needed strength, and the girl hadn't noticed that but this guy did. Aleran was waiting for the girl to give them a price, but the man throwing the technique alone as a payment force him to ask for money on top. Maybe, the technique wasn't even worth one spirit stone, but they couldn't be picky. He immediately regretted not being more vague about the number of spirit stones. ‘ Man I suck at this kind of negotiation.’ Suddenly, they were in an extremely awkward position to bargain with the man. It was clear who had the most experience between the man and the woman.
The negotiation was quick, and somehow ended with Aleran and Kindrav in a disadvantage. The man ended up agreeing to pay 50 spirit stones on top of the technique. The main problem was that the man realized immediately that they had no clue how much a spirit stone was worth. They didn't know if 10 spirit stones was a lot or too little.
After the negotiation, the man entered a room an took 25 spirit stones with him. The rest would be given after they accomplish their side of the deal.
“Here you have it.” he also took an old piece of paper and gave it to Kindrav. “ This is the cultivation technique. I was going to give it to you once you hold your part of the deal, but I trust barbarians. You all suffer the burden of the deeds done by the Blood Peak tribe, I'm truly sorry for that, young man.” The man looked at Kindrav with a tinge of nostalgia. Upon closer inspection, one would notice he was looking at his earring. But very quickly, before Kindrav could say anything, the man turned and went out through a side door. They hadn't even heard his name, and the woman only told them he was her master.
Confused, and taking comfort that maybe they will get the rest of the money with the next big job, Aleran and Kindrav went out of Heaven's Vault. After putting enough distance with the place, Kindrav spoke first. “ How do you plan on keeping your promise, Al?” He knew Aleran and he would never make a promise like that without confidence.
“ Do you know why I'm always the first to reach the places we are about to rob? And why I always know the general layout of the places by the time you appear?” Aleran answered with a question. Their normal M.O. was with Aleran opening the lock either by pick locking or using his magnetic Image. And then Kindrav would go inside and empty the place with the information given by Aleran on the distribution of the rooms. If Aleran had to use his magnetic image he would normally end up too tired to search the place.
“I always assumed you paid some of the little street rats to get inside before the shop closed. They wouldn't be suspicious if they enter asking for money or food to the owner. And you know them, they can get slippery and enter back rooms and storage rooms if they are motivated. The owners would just yell at them and make them run. Then, they would tell you how big the place was inside. But, now that you mention it, I always find it strange how accurate the information was.” Kindrav said stroking his chin.
Aleran nodded. “I always get at the place one hour before you and I use a special way to get the general layout of the shops. It's a very risky method, actually, and I need to be really focused. If something goes wrong I could even die. But it is also very efficient. If we start today, I can assure you we can map the whole network of underground tunnels in ten days. I ask for more in case of something unexpected happening.” Aleran said with a glint in his eyes.
“Any other super weird ability I need to know about?” Kindrav asked sarcastically. It was already surprising Alerans ability to knock out an earth level beast or to move metal with his mind. But every time that Kindrav thought he knew the extent of his abilities, the guy came up with a new way of showing off.
“Haha. It is not super weird. When I master it and if you are willing to take the risk, I will try and teach you. But I need to get better at it first to teach you right and not put you in danger.” The truth was that he didn't know where to begin to teach someone. He had practically download the technique to his brain.
“Sure, as long as it doesn't kill me.” After that, they started talking about how to proceed with the mapping of the tunnels and about the cultivation technique.
“We have to first test the cultivation method that guy gave us. But judging from his looks when he gave you the paper, it must be real. After that, we will start mapping the tunnels” Said Aleran with resolution. Finally, things were starting to go their way. Now, he could see the light at the end of the tunnel, a chance to get the IDs and scape the Crimson Claw.