“Stop thinking about that, you said it, we can't be compromised because of a girl that is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Besides, we did warn her.” Kindrav whispered as they ran, hoping the sound would reach Aleran's ears.
Unlike before entering the building, the outside was now quite chaotic. People could be heard screaming from time to time, and members of the Crimson Claws seemed to have passed the defenses, starting to create all kinds of mayhem.
Although the place was a complete mess, the guards near the front of the small hill were actually winning, slowly pushing back the less organized formation of thugs. But there were so many Crimson Claw members that they could not stop everyone. More so if the intruders took detours and tried hard to enter unnoticed, after all, that was how Aleran and company managed to enter in the first place.
“I know, I just felt wrong for a while because we didn't have anything against her. But I know that if she was here, she was probably one of them, which means she was an enemy. Moreover, it is possible that she had escaped before the Burning Water caught on fire.” Letting her go inside was something both of them had chosen and Aleran knew this kind of decision was not something easy to categorize as good or bad. The line was thin and in such stressful situations Aleran knew that there was a possibility of crossing it without even knowing. He could only make the decision of being more careful next time. “I'm not brooding about that. I was just thinking about that Burning Water.”
When he first heard Kindrav's description, Aleran thought of it as some kind of liquid like kerosene. And he wasn't wrong, the difference apart from its glowing green color was that apparently, this burning water was extracted from living plants. These plants used it to light fires, driving away other plants and animals that were not as resistant to fire as them. The other difference was that the liquid would not evaporate after being burned. It would lose its glow, but after a few hours, it could be burned again. This could be repeated three times before the liquid could not be used anymore.
This last property left Aleran thinking for quite a while. Kindrav had set ablaze a small quantity of it to show him how it burned. ‘ If I remember correctly, a yellow flame means a high concentration of sodium. Of course, it could be another magical crap that makes it take that color. Hehe, I love this world, there's so much to discover.’
After a quick demonstration, they had spread the burning water all over the building. Then, they used Hadok's robe, dipping one extreme of it into the burning water and lightening the other end with a torch that was on the underground dungeon. Those places didn't have the luxury of being illuminated by crystals after all. This gave them enough time to escape, and both Aleran and Kindrav believed that it was enough time for the girl to come out too.
“I know what you mean, it is something only the rich use, I only know of it thanks to the merchants that pass by my village every year. Only rich assholes can afford it. ” Kindrav nodded, misunderstanding what Aleran was thinking.
“Mmm? People are fighting dead ahead.” Right at the moment when they entered a clear surrounded by a few trees, Aleran noticed a few silhouettes moving rapidly. There were five of them in a three versus two battle and none of them wore the battle attire of the guards. Thanks to the difference in numbers it seemed that the three men team was winning the fight.
To escape Kindrav and Aleran had followed the same route they used to sneak in. But unlike before, the chaos made it more crowded. There were not only people from the Crimson Claw now. The people that were previously watching from the sidelines soon realized the center of the city had become a free zone with no city guards around. This led to some opportunists who stated to approach, trying to fish in troubled waters. Two of these men were such opportunists, while the rest were members of the Crimson Claw.
Aleran and Kindrav both avoided the group, it was not wise to waste time with this kind of incident. But one of the three men of the Crimson Claw noticed them from afar and started running toward them. The man was bald, had half of his face covered and was shirtless, thus showing the Crimson Claw tattoo on his left chest. He was carrying a club with spikes that to Aleran looked more like a baseball bat with nails than a club, a post-apocalyptic weapon of sorts. As the man closed on them, Aleran noticed the eyes filled with greed as he looked at the box. The man didn't even know what was inside, but he could guess that both Kindrav and Aleran looked much like burglars sneaking away after a successful hit.
“Look, pal. We are tight on time. Turn around and we can go on our way.” Kindrav said to the man who was already close enough to hear his words. Meanwhile, he was already wielding his sword in a defensive position.
“Sure, drop the box and you can go on your merry way. Or else you will follow the fate of those two, hehe.” The man pointed behind him, one of the two men had already fallen while the other, though challenging for the two men fighting him, was not going to last much. The smirk under the piece of cloth covering half of his face was evident.
“Imbecile! We are also part of the Crimson Claw, we are on the same side here! Don't you know about the twin ghosts?” Aleran called the name they went by inside the Crimson Claw
The bald man was first surprised, but then he shook his head. “ That can't be, they say the twin ghosts look identical, hence the name. Kid, you should not speak so much bullshit.”
Aleran visage turned darker as he realized that these men probably weren't part of the briefing Grujil made before the fight. In fact, Grujil had chosen only those inner members who could follow orders well and were more loyal to be part of this operation. These three thugs were similar to the opportunistic men coming in without knowing anything. ‘Well, even if they were part of the briefing they wouldn't know us since we were at the back and our mission is a secret only Grujil and Ibrak knew about.’
What's more, although their nickname was known by many and their exploits made them famous inside the Crimson Claw, few knew them. There were many rumors about their appearance, age, and abilities. To make things worse they didn't have a tattoo to prove they were part of the Crimson Claw, which only made their story more unbelievable.
But none of that mattered as the man stood in position, clearly, he didn't care if they were on the same team. He could only see them as prey. Without caring anymore the man swung his club at Aleran who was still holding the box and could not defend easily.
But Aleran didn't even flinch at that, he closed his eyes and shook his head. ‘ I guess sometimes is faster to just bulldoze over these obstacles.’
“Clank.” Before the club could hit Aleran, Kindrav was already in front of him defending with his sword. And at the time Aleran heard the sound, he moved like a predator pouncing on a defenseless prey. Reaching with his free hand to the face of the man. He just grabbed his head and let his image do the rest.
“Ahhhh” The scream was first filled with pain, but slowly turned into something mechanical, almost without a soul. It was an intermittent scream that barely felt human. Something that left the other two men that had just wrapped their fight frozen on their spot, not willing to take a single step more. What caught the two men by surprise, besides the terrifying sight, was how smoothly their leader had been dispatched.
Aleran just looked at the other two men with a deadly glance, his eyes saying ‘This would be your fate if you come closer.’ He had learned from his previous experienced and he had started to gather his image from the moment the man had noticed them. By the time the fight started, he only needed to rely for a short moment on Kindrav and then everything was settled. There was some kind of unspoken agreement between them. Kindrav would defend wholeheartedly distracting the enemy and taking the brunt of their attack, while Aleran would focus on a finishing blow, trusting his defense upon Kindrav.
This simple tactic was extremely effective, last time the circumstances were exceptional, not letting them use their teamwork.
Alerans deadly gaze coupled with the smoke coming out of their agonizing friend were enough to frighten the two other men into running away. Aleran, on his part, was still looking away from his victim. This way of killing was too gruesome and he could barely force himself to use it, much less looking at it. But they needed to send a message and frightening these two was the fastest way to deal with them. The fact that killing was becoming easier to Aleran was the thing that frightened him the most, though.
With the man still twitching, more from the electrical impulses than any real sign of life, Aleran finally looked down. Just like the wolf he had killed in the forest, the man had a few limbs broken from the violent convulsions. But unlike the wolf, his face was practically melted, making it hard for Aleran to detach his hand. And when he finally managed to take his hand off the melted face, it came out with many pieces of charred skin and flesh. Even his own hand was scorched from the power he used. “ Maybe I overdid it.” Aleran muttered.
Kindrav was slightly scared at the sight of the melted face and the burnt lines all over the body of the man. One particular pattern was coming down from the face and neck towards the torso and stopping on the area where the heart was. What struck Kindrav the most about this mark was how similar it looked to the flashes of lightning when they crossed the sky. He remembered when he asked what image it was, Aleran had answered it was lightning. And until now, Kindrav couldn't reconcile Aleran's abilities with actual lightning, but now it suddenly made sense. ‘He summoned the lightning inside the body of that poor bastard. That… that is really frightening.’
Despite his shock, Kindrav reminded Aleran who was still engrossed looking at his stained hand. “ Let's move, Al.”
Aleran nodded without saying much, and soon both of them resumed their march towards the periphery of the hill. Halfway through, they changed direction and both moved to the base of the hill. After following the path they came from, they had to change direction until they spotted a run down well that was no longer in use. Right next to it, hidden by a group of rocks, they were told there was a narrow fissure.
“Boy, they weren't lying about the narrow part. would the box even fit here?” Kindrav whispered.
“I suppose that's why Grujil didn't use it to sneak in with the bulk of his forces,” Aleran answered a little more at ease after running off his previous mood. Although he still felt his right hand a little squishy with the pieces of meted skin, that was like carrying a wet sponge around all the time. He could gloss over that feeling now.
They peered inside the man-made crack and was designed to not be too conspicuous. It was hidden by shrubs and plants, and even if it was discovered it looked like a fissure made by lack of maintenance. This fissure led to a secret tunnel the former City Lord used to smuggle prostitutes.
And, as the ones who sold them, the Crimson Claw was aware of this tunnel. The previous City Lord had a taste for women, especially young ones. But he was married to a woman with a deep background, so he needed to keep his urges a secret from his wife and her people. The tunnel was just one of the many solutions he found for his insatiable lust.
The only problem was that this tunnel used the sewers and anyone who came out of it would be drenched in an awful stench. It wasn't a problem for the prostitutes since they would be thoroughly cleaned before getting intimate with the City Lord. But to anyone trying to sneak in without any inside help, it would be difficult to hide such smell. Besides, the formation partially covered the sewers which made it impossible to get many people in a reasonable amount of time without breaking the formation.
Thus, although it was not a good way to sneak in, it was perfect to sneak out. It was uncomfortable, no doubt, but it was an effective way of slipping away unnoticed. Moreso when the only people knowing about this were the previous City Lord and a few of his men.
They could come back running in the open, but as they saw just now, two people carrying a box and running away from the danger were too conspicuous. The streets were packed with people watching the turmoil from afar and many would remember two such individuals. That was why before coming here they were told of this passage.
The small crevice was located near a well used by some servants to water the plants in the hot seasons. And it was only used by these servants sporadically, it was almost abandoned, meaning there were no people in the surroundings.
Both Aleran and Kindrav entered with much effort. At first, they entered crawling at a slow pace even though the slope was very steep. And, from time to time, they had to stop to make the heavy box pass through the protruding rocks.
After a long time of crawling, the crevice became wider and finally, they dropped to a slightly bigger section that was the sewers. This sewer system was only a commodity enjoyed by the City Lord and the public baths in the center of the city. Places like the slums and the mid-class houses didn't have such a sophisticated system. So, as they got further from the City Lord hill, where his mansion was, the sewers became less branched and all started to converge into a big tunnel.
Aleran and Kindrav took their time to navigate through the sewers since they were not familiar with them. They were in complete darkness, with waste that reached their tights and what seemed like rats and other creatures running away from the two intruders. From time to time, they also found the bones of people. This confirmed the stories Aleran had heard on the streets about what the guards did when they ‘accidentally’ beat someone to death.
Despite these conditions and the pungent smell that almost seemed to pierce through their brains, the two made it safely through the sewers and into the Crimson Claw system of underground tunnels.
“Blaghh” Aleran pucked the instant they made it through the gate that separated the sewers with the tunnels. Wiping his mouth he looked at Kindrav who was doing the effort of stoping his vomit at his throat. “ I don't know about you, but I prefer to be tortured all day long than smelling that again.”
Kindrav shrugged his shoulders. “Haha, what are you talking about? I would rather drink from those sewers than hearing that douche being turned on with our suffering.” Kindrav looked around and then said with a more serious face. “ Hey, I think Rogdo was in charge of sending some kind of signal, but I forgot to ask him before sending him on his way.” He frowned at his own stupidity.
“ If they don't come back we will have to break into Grujil's private tunnels and look for our IDs, though I have no idea where he keeps them. For now, let's just go to the pit and wait there. Besides, it’s more convenient this way. It will be more believable when we tell him that Rogdo was killed by the guards and didn't have the chance to tell us about the signal.” Aleran was sure Grujil wouldn't die so easily and would come back to hold his end of their deal.
The man in question would surely disagree with Aleran at this moment. He was at his wit's end right now. He was pale from head to toe, looking almost like a corpse due to the loss of blood. There were no apparent big wounds on his body, only that every inch of it was covered in small shallow wounds. But in this fight, every little wound was one more nail in his coffin.
His enemy could extract an absurd amount of blood from the tiniest of wounds, and even now, not a single one of those wounds could be closed. Now, the attacks of the City Lord, having Grujil's blood mixed with them, were becoming more powerful as he got weaker in the same proportion. It got to the point that the last exchange created the first big injuries on his stomach. Some of his organs were severely damaged.
With half of his flying compass broken and his spear showing signs of following the same path, he was truly afraid. Grujil didn't want to use his last triumph card, because, after that, it meant he would be practically naked before his enemy. And he knew the Ireg, the City Lord still had more than a few hidden abilities he was not using, even though Grujil could tell his foe was having a hard time too.
Grujil's father, for all that he hated him, always said to him that a cultivator who has shown all his cards was half a step into the grave no matter how good the situation looked like. That was because after the fight you would be bare for anyone to do whatever they want with you, knowing exactly what your situation is. If you used everything you got, the least you could do is to look like you got more hidden moves, but that bluff would not last long. Grujil believed in this way of thinking and was one of his main rules.
Grujil was currently debating in his mind whether to use all his hidden cards trying to resist longer or flee preserving some of his strength. He could tell that his enemy was extremely weak otherwise this fight would have ended long ago. But the man looked so cool and relaxed that sent a chill down Grujil's spine. It seemed like death was not a possibility for him.
‘Damit Rogdo you piece of shit! Did does idiots fail? Send the signal already!’ He looked down towards the City lord mansion. And that was when he caught sight of the fire engulfing the back of the mansion. His pupils constricted as he thought. ‘Is on fire? Maybe something happened and they couldn't send the signal.’
As he looked back up he saw the City Lord smiling at him and an ominous feeling rose in his heart. ‘It doesn't matter now. If I stay here, this guy is going to kill me without a doubt.’ With his mind finally reaching the decision of self-preservation he put almost all his energy in his two artifacts.
The compass, glowing with an eerie red color, started to accelerate towards the City Lord who was surprised at seeing his enemy charging all of a sudden. Many of the spheres rotating around the City Lord shot towards Grujil, but midway they stopped as realization finally washed over the face of the City Lord.
Promptly, the blood created a barrier around the City Lord at the same time that Grujil jumped backward, leaving the compass flying on its own. But that was not the end, the spear on Grujil's hand also started to glow red and even started to make a buzzing noise.
“Haa!” Midair, Grujil threw the spear directly towards the City Lord. “ CRIMSON CLAW, RETREAT!” At the same time, his yell reverberated through the sky like a thunderclap.
Following that, the spear reached the compass and almost at the same time both artifacts exploded.
‘Boom!’ Bright light and a huge blast of wind took over the skies while tremors took over the earth. Except for the more sturdy mansions, the houses below the range of the explosion took great damage. Some even started to collapse altogether. Many of the warriors, be it the members of the Crimson Claw or the personal guards of the City Lord, took serious damage from the explosion. The weakest ones who were right below the explosion taking place in the sky died immediately.
After the loud explosion, silence took over the whole city. Even the commander in charge of the city guards grew worried at the scale of the explosion. He didn't know why the Crimson Claw had paid such a huge sum of spirit stones. The city guards only had to make everyone believe they were busy and had to delay their response. The Crimson Claw had even convinced their higher-ups to endorse this. But if the damage extended too much, the city guards on duty would inevitably become scapegoats.
Not only the city guards were nervous, but all the subordinates of the City Lord also stopped in their tracks to look worriedly at the center of the explosion. This was a chance many Crimson Claw members took to retreat and run to the underground tunnels.
Above in the sky, a cloud of smoke that the compass and the spear had become started to dissipate. Inside, the figure of the City Lord was seeing standing in the air as if nothing had happened. And he was looking with a frown at a crumbling medallion resting on his hand.
It was only then that the guards breathed a sigh of relief. Even the eyes of the captain of the personal guards could be seen relaxing under his mask. He had been so worried that he let Ibrak escape as the man, with one less arm, ran away.
With a sigh, Ireg threw the remainings of the medallion into the wind. “It took me so much effort to craft this, and now is gone.” This was one of the last treasures he had to protect himself. In his last expedition, he had almost died. He had not only lost two protective treasures he also lost his weapons and many men. The only thing left on him was this medallion crafted by himself, and now he was devoid of protection. He would be lying if he said that this didn't hurt him.
The las explosion took him y surprise, he didn't expect for those two weapons to have a self-destruction mechanism. Some of the masters that made the artifacts could leave mechanisms to destroy their weapons from inside. Most of those mechanisms were impossible to look for on the outside and only the one who created the artifact knew of them. Then, they would tell only to the people they gave their artifact to make sure their creations didn't fall in the hands of unworthy people.
But this self-destruction feature was rare, that's why it took the City Lord by surprise. The artifacts that had this kind of mechanism were harder to control. And the mechanism that was almost always activated with an overload of qi could be triggered by accident id the user was not careful. What was even more shocking was that even the spear, which was apparently some kind of family inheritance, also had such a mechanism.
Even then, Ireg believed that his hastily erected defense was almost enough to block the explosion. But Ireg was a cautious man, in his current state he could not make any mistake. So he decided to use the medallion instead of risking even a minor injury. That was also why he took so long in fighting Grujil, he was playing it safe, killing him slowly and without risk.
The City Lord did not bother to look around for Grujil. His sight was blurry, and he was suppressing an old injury that had opened during the fight. Right now, he was not in a condition to go hunting. Plus, he didn't have any treasure to rely on right now that could compensate for his lack of strength.
The thought of getting out of this city popped in his mind and started to grow every second he remained in place. Someone wanted his life and he had some idea who this someone was. But as he said at the beginning of the fight, he could feel something wrong. He felt a third party involved in all this, although he was not sure. It was more of an intuition than anything else, but he believed in his instincts. There were too many things that were hard to discern now as if hidden by a thick fog.
He would have to swallow his pride and go back home defeated. His dark eyes showed a deep resilience, unusual in such a youthful face. He couldn't leave right now, but as soon as everything was settled he would go back to the capital. Right now he had to order his men to regroup and stay close and inside his mansion.
‘ I will wait till the envoy from the dragon heart comes and I will depart with him. Once I-’ His train of thought was suddenly interrupted when he looked down. The surroundings of the storage building were in flames.
He had looked from time to time towards the storage building. The fact that this happened just when he got his hands on those arms was something that didn't escape him. But he thought that was only because to get those arms he almost died and was now weakened. If someone was powerful enough to open the vault by force, that someone would also be able to kill him easily in his current state.
‘No, it has to be something else. Nobody who could open the vault would do it sneakily with me like this.’ Ireg tried to calm himself down as he descended.