Ten minutes passed, and… nothing. Besides a few drone-like machines checking them out, no movement had been made from the Fort to welcome their arrival. Reika was getting partly worried and partly confused at the lack of a response.
She was absolutely certain they had been spotted, but didn’t they know who they were or where they were from? They had to know, right? Had they just caught them at a bad time? During an important meeting, perhaps? Or was something else going on that required their immediate attention, such as an emergency?
Finally, after another ten minutes, they saw a man approach. He was running across the plains rather slowly, and upon using Identify, she saw he was only level 71. Reika’s frown intensified as the man made it to their vessel, and with her permission, they lowered a platform for him to get onto the barge.
The man who came up was middle-aged and looked quite uncomfortable with everything that was going on. Reika looked at him as he correctly identified her as the one in charge.
“Miss, may I know your purpose for visiting the Fort?” the man asked, clearly nervous but still speaking clearly.
Reika now truly frowned as she answered. “Is this not Haven? The City Lord should be aware of visitors from the Noboru Clan.”
The official suddenly looked opened his eyes wide in recognition. “Ah! Right, I do remember that being mentioned in the briefing a few weeks ago. Sorry I didn’t recognize it. I must apologize; we are currently a bit short-staffed due to the absence of the City Leader and her assistant.”
“Absence? Did something happen? Where are they?” Reika asked bit concerned they truly had come at an inopportune time.
“I cannot disclose that, but they should be back within a few days at the latest. But for now, how about coming to the Fort and relaxing until someone is ready to receive you?” the official asked. “I am only in charge of agriculture in the northern plains, so I believe it best to wait for someone more qualified.”
Reika nodded as she asked. “Will it be possible to visit the dome? Is the Lord in there?”
“Uh, I think he is, but you need permission from him to enter. I also wouldn’t go with too many people, though. He doesn’t tend to like large crowds or interruptions in general while working. Not the most social type, but damn is he good at what he does,” the man answered casually, having clearly begun to let his guard down.
Reika frowned slightly but didn’t voice her displeasure at the clear disrespect and underhanded insults towards Lord Thayne. This was not her city and not her rules, so she shouldn’t overstep… though she would mention it to Jake once they met.
She would naturally also respect that Jake didn’t like large groups of visitors, which she understood from their brief interactions earlier. He preferred smaller groups, and that was perfectly fine. At least the official did give respect to Lord Thayne’s abilities.
Being led by the man, they quickly flew their barge closer before anchoring it and entering the Fort. Reika found the entire city a bit… disappointing? Then again, it had been built swiftly to accommodate the many people seeking refuge at Haven.
Once inside, they found an inn of sorts and left many of their members there, but they had to spread it out over several establishments as no single one had room for them all. Reika chose to let the others handle that as she went straight for the dome. Officials would come and handle more long-term accommodations soon enough.
It wasn’t hard to reach the dome, and the official had stayed with her to function as a guide. He pointed out the teleportation hub right beside the dome, currently with circles leading to the forest part of Haven as well as one leading to Skyggen, with several more currently under construction.
Haven was a bit isolated compared to most other cities, with even a lack of minor non-Pylon settlements in its immediate area. She knew a reason for this was them migrating to the Fort over time, and another was that there were a lot of hostile beasts in the area.
Arriving at the dome, she excused the guide and walked up to the massive sphere of metal. No doors were visible anywhere, and nothing really happened when she stood in front of it, so she knocked. A pulse of mana went through the dome, and she was certain whoever was inside had been alerted to her presence. She waited a bit with nothing else happening, feeling a bit impatient as five or so minutes passed. Finally, there was movement as a small drone flew over to her from somewhere, holding a walkie-talkie of sorts.
“Hello, this the Lord’s assistant speaking, may I know the purpose of your visit?” a voice came from the other end.
“I am here to visit Lord Thayne as arranged with the City Lord and the Chosen,” Reika answered as she finally got a response.
“Okay, he should come by within the day if you wait,” the voice answered.
“Excuse me?” Reika answered. “I was informed Lord Thayne was here?”
“Bad information, I’m afraid. Lord Thayne left a few hours ago, and Arnold doesn’t want any visitors at this time.”
“Arnold is using the laboratory currently?” Reika asked, a bit surprised at Jake allowing others access as he seemed very much like the private sort. Also, if he made poison, was it safe for someone like Arnold to work within?
“Yes?” the voice asked, confused.
“I understand. Where do you reckon Lord Thayne is currently located?” she then asked, thinking she could always just talk to the source himself.
“Probably at his laboratory.”
“Wait, what?” Reika exclaimed.
“What?” an equally confused voice answered.
“Ma’am, this is at Arnold’s.”
Jake was leaning back and relaxing as he read a book with Sylphie lying on his stomach, also just resting. He was on the roof of his lodge, just enjoying the sunlight as he went through one of the larger tomes “borrowed” from Yalsten related to beast rearing.
It had lots of wrong stuff in it but many good nuggets of wisdom too. Jake had already had his inklings regarding a certain skill of his, but by now, he truly understood. He had kind of been using Sagacity of the Malefic Viper wrong, or at least suboptimally. Jake usually tried to get knowledge through the drop of blood he had gained from Villy, and while what he got from that was damn valuable, it was also often incomplete or too high level for it to be of any use to Jake.
His using it only to delve into that blood also raised another question. What the hell was the purpose of the skill for someone who hadn’t managed to absorb a drop of blood from a Primordial? Jake had a sneaking suspicion that wasn’t the usual go-to.
After reading many books, Jake began to realize what others could use it for: it was a fact-checker. Okay, not entirely, but it helped give him a feel of the validity and value of information and more easily compile it into something actionable. A lot of written down methods kind of sucked, and Sagacity gave him an idea of what was trash and what was treasures as he went through the books, greatly increasing his efficiency when studying.
On that note, the books from Yalsten were damn good in general. Jake even had a suspicion the system had sorted the books a bit to remove the truly useless ones. Or maybe the vampires were just very selective in what kind of reading material they wanted on their bookshelves. Either way, it was a win for Jake.
As he laid there reading, he heard a noise from down in the lodge. It was a phone of sorts he had gotten from Arnold for the man to contact him in case something happened. Jake had no idea how long the guy had been able to make it, and quite frankly, he didn’t care much. This was the first time it was used, and with a string of mana, Jake manipulated it out an open window and into his hand as he didn’t move from his prone position.
“What is it?” Jake asked as Arnold’s assistant spoke on the other side.
“Lord Thayne, we have just been visited by a Ms. Noboru, who is – as you can guess – from the Noboru clan. She has arrived with an entourage earlier today and was at the dome asking for you. I have subsequently sent her your way.”
“Oh… did you get her first name?” Jake asked, wondering if Reika had made it there or if it was merchants or something.
“No, but she did mention she had made the agreement directly with you and the City Lord. I told her you were at Haven, so she will likely go and find you now. I apologize in advance if this was overstepping,” the assistant explained.
“It’s fine; I’ll just wait here then,” Jake agreed. This was the sort of thing Miranda usually dealt with, but Reika was as much his guest as she was Miranda’s – if not more so – which naturally meant he would also have to be accomodating.
He briefly considered fetching Miranda from the dungeon but ultimately decided not to. They needed levels, and the dungeon was a great place to get them, and dragging Miranda out would disband the party. No, he could handle this one by himself.
Feeling movement on his chest, he rubbed Sylphie’’s feathers. Alright, not entirely by himself.
It took only fifteen minutes before Jake felt someone approaching, also confirming it was a good choice not to head to the Fort himself as he could totally see them pass by each other.
“Time to receive our guest,” Jake said as he lifted Sylphie up and placed her on the roof of the lodge, getting some minor complaints, but she soon accepted her fate and just perched herself up to still look menacing. Jake jumped off the roof and landed in front of the porch as he headed to the entrance of the valley.
Reika seemed to be a bit unsure as she went through the narrow path leading into Jake’s valley, and he couldn’t help but chuckle as she stopped up and read every warning sign that Miranda and Hank had set up once upon a time, telling people to stay out.
He waited at the entrance as soon enough, Reika also detected him. Jake had already made his mask invisible as he waved the moment she came into sight. “Long time no see!”
With some simple magic, Reika flew over as she landed in front of him. “So this is the famed abode of the Chosen of the Malefic One.”
“Not too famous, I hope. I would prefer to avoid tourists,” Jake joked back as he invited her to the lodge. “Anyway, I heard you stopped by Arnold’s workshop on the way here? Did you need anything from him? Ah, in case you didn’t know, Arnold is this scientist guy, who-“
“I know who he is, and no, I did not need anything off him,” Reika said, for some reason looking a bit embarrassed.
Jake wanted to ask why she had then gone to his workshop, but he at least had enough social skills to know that wasn’t a good idea. So, he changed the subject as they walked towards the lodge.
“Oh, alright. How was the trip here? Saw something noteworthy on the way?”
“Quite a few things, in fact. The trip took nearly a month and-“
Reika began to explain the journey on a massive magical barge as Jake learned she had brought an entire entourage of alchemists, once more making him reconsider calling Miranda and Lillian for assistance. She had just begun talking about a massive lake they had chosen to avoid as she suddenly stopped up, staring towards Jake’s lodge.
“What… what’s that?” she asked, motioning with her eyes in his lodge’s direction.
“That’s my lodge?” Jake answered, a bit confused.
“No… you…” Reika sighed loudly as she pointed. “That damn tree!”
Jake suddenly realized what she was talking about as he looked over at the good old Celerity banana-spawner, also known as the top-tier Agility-elixir ingredient provider.
[Ancient Celerita Musa (Ancient)] - This plant has been grown from an ancient Musa seed and brought new life by the advent of the system. Also commonly called a banana tree, this plant produces different sorts of bananas, a type of fruit unique to the newly integrated planet Earth. This musa has become intimately connected to the concept of time through unknown means, making its growth pattern highly unpredictable. Destroying this musa will have unpredictable effects, and using it in any kind of alchemical creation will require one to first anchor it in time. Can only grow in certain areas with intense amounts of mana.
Jake failed to hold himself back as he answered.
“That isn’t a tree.”
“What?” Reika asked, looking confused.
“Didn’t you know? Bananas don’t grow on trees. They grow on something called a musa that looks like trees but aren’t trees. Something with the stem not being made from wood or something,” Jake explained, gladly sharing that little of trivia he himself hadn’t known. A part of him also just liked to mess with Reika as she was the know-it-all type.
Perhaps his god had influenced him more than he thought…
“I… whatever. How did you find such a specimen? Also, the mana in its immediate area is very odd. Some kind of forcefield? Very peculiar,” she said, looking deep in focus.
“You can’t Identify it?” Jake asked a bit perplexed why she hadn’t.
“I can see it is called a Celerita Musa with an ancient rarity but nothing else of value. I am not an alchemist specializing in the use of herbs, so I generally can’t Identify any above epic-rarity,” Reika explained.
“Ah, gotcha,” Jake nodded in realization. It was the same as him and metals and many other materials, including many types of chemicals and what-not.
Jake already knew that while they both were alchemists, they truly did have way different paths. She was more of a chemist and pharmacist than a traditional alchemist, from his understanding. Jake was far more traditional, but not entirely as he focused on poisons over anything else, though he was far more diverse.
“How is the old man?” Jake then asked, changing the subject again.
“He’s fine, already fully recovered when I left and stronger than during the Treasure Hunt, even without using that skill. It is truly both a curse and a blessing. Currently, he is out exploring the territory south of the border of the Noboru Clan together with the former Monarch of Blood. He keeps the Legacy with him at all times,” Reika explained, very forthcomingly, adding a final part making her openness make more sense.
“Great-grandfather told me to inform you that he hopes the Noboru Clan and Haven can build strong ties for the future. He added that he would also gladly have another duel at the next opportunity.”
“Anytime,” Jake answered, smiling. The last duel had gotten him the legendary Arcane Awakening and made him grow significantly. Saying no to another such chance would be utter insanity.
“Naturally, I also hope this exchange of knowledge can also take place in the realm of alchemy,” Reika added with a smile.
“Of course,” Jake answered. “Always appreciate seeing different points of view and sparring with someone who walks an interesting path.”
Which is when the snake whispered in his ear once more.
“Man, I wish there was some massive institution meant to facilitate exactly that, maybe even something owned and run by friends with literally godlike qualifications and more resources than you could spend in a few mortal lifespans. Oh lord, where can one find such a place!? I am sure this magical place of learning would maybe even allow you to drag a few mortal friends along, such as that girl!”
The words of temptation were indeed neverending.