As negotiated, Basraeca would answer Caleb’s demands as far as they were willing to go.
They weren’t sure why, but the entity somehow believed the king would do his all to repay them when they finally called the favor. Whether that would be enough, however, was another issue. Caleb liked to think they weren’t the unreasonable sort, though. Only time could tell.
“‘I don’t believe you need to lie’, huh…”
King Basca’s genuine reply even made the entity separated consciousness cringe. Or was it shame they felt? Caleb did deceive them when they were asking more… in-depth questions. Not stating whether if one was telling the entire truth or not counted as a lie, right? The pedantic of morals.
Still, these little creatures weren’t supposed to know the truth, anyway.
On the way returning to their room, they ran into one of the weirdos in the anteroom leading to their suites; Sun Myung. The young man let out a dumbfounded ‘wuh’ as they walked past; he then scrambled out of the room and hurried after them.
“Wait! Wait a bit! Caleb!”
Sun Myung almost fell over, skidding to a stop as the entity pivoted abruptly to look at him. He gulped, staring wide-eyed at Caleb; his gaze jerked back and forth on their face.
“You called?” the entity raised their brows; what caused the Korean boy to stare so, they wondered.
“I-uhh… we-I, me and the others…” he awkwardly wrung his hands. “Can… can we talk to you?” His prior enthusiasm and overly optimistic attitude were gone.
“We need help,” Sun Myung whispered.
A massive understatement.
“They’re lying to us,” Nakao began.
Coasting on the other obvious train was miss temper over on the bed; pulling at a lock of hair. There was a notable edge in the atmosphere; all the summoned ones were gathered in Sun Myung’s room, but not truly together. Understandably so when this was the first thing Nakao had to say when she finally woke.
Guarded, anxious, each had pulled themselves into a corner of the room. It was not difficult to tell some of them had foreseen this development, but to what degree?
“I kinda knew already, though…”
“That’s expected, right? They’re politicians and all…”
After a slight pause, Thomas and Stephanie spoke up simultaneously. They glanced at each other for a moment then shifted their attention back to Nakao as the mousy youth extended an open palm at Stephanie’s direction and shrugged. Others waited, though the bald-headed Ryuji had a scowl on his face.
“No-I… Listen, my ability… this [Faceless] can detect lies,” she breathed. And what followed captured everyone’s attention. “It even tells me which part of someone’s speech is false.”
Now that was intriguing.
“They were really careful about the words, most of the time, but… things slipped out. It was like a bell. Every time they lied, it rang,” Nakao took a moment. “The priestess wasn’t thankful for our presence, and whatever this demon business entailed, the king didn’t see them as threats.
“And this smug bastard’s been lying the entire time, too,” the Japanese girl whirled, glaring at Caleb.
The entity was sitting on one of the only chairs in the room. Caleb hadn’t noticed until now, but the Earthers gave them a wide berth and none of them stayed within reach even though there were more seats available in the spacious lounging area.
“Is that a problem?”
“Wh-what do mean ‘Is that a problem’? You know what’s going on, don’t you?”
“Not entirely,” they shrugged.
“Hold on a bit, what’s Caleb lying about?” Sun Myung cut in.
“At the stone room, when he showed the [Status],” she still bore into them. “Everything on it was fake.”
“You can even do that?” Stephanie widened her eyes. “That’s some serious power…”
“What else can it do?” Thomas chimed in. “The name [Faceless] doesn’t sound like lie-detection-”
“Guys, guys, let’s keep that for later,” Sun Myung sighed.
“… he isn’t here against his will either,” the group whipped their heads at Caleb, who was looking off into space without a bit of care.
Surprises all around, they knew such complexity was not beyond the system. The entity didn’t think the one implementing it would apply interactions so meticulous when they still left odd, illogical confluences, however. Given the case, Caleb made a note to assess the Gifts extensively. And here lied the perfect subjects for the trials; these little things were walking into it, even.
“Do excuse me, my mind was elsewhere for a moment,” the entity smiled warmly as they cast their eyes over the group.
Although the disclosure was quite a bit of a shock, Caleb didn’t think these feeble humans would stare at them for so long. The entity wondered what was on their minds.
“Can you help us go back?” Joaquin muttered the words at first. “Is it possible?”
“Hmmm… would you have enough power to do so?”
“So, we can do it?” the big guy perked up.
“Woah woah… we should think carefully about this.” Sun Myung cut in, somehow more nervous than before.
“Say…” only now Ryuji spoke up. “What makes you guys trust this bi-this gal’s words, huh?”
“I felt this kinda came out of nowhere as well,” Stephanie added.
“Uh-huh, it just sounds off.” Thomas nodded.
Looking betrayed, Nakao’s mouth hung open, slightly ajar. The girl glanced at Sun Myung, telling him to do something about this development with her eyes. The lanky Korean guy was just as frustrated, but for a different reason.
“Why did you only mention this now!?”
“I-I don’t know! I just recalled when I saw him!”
“But it doesn’t matter, right?” the brunette girl crossed her arms. “We can just refuse.”
“I don’t think it’s that easy,” Thomas shrugged; drawing a line at his neck while making a face. “What if they… y’know.”
“Since all of you still need to discuss things by yourselves, I’ll be taking my leave,” Caleb slid out of their seat and moved toward the door. “Send someone when you’re done.”
“Wai-” Sun Myung made to chase after them when someone grabbed his wrist.
“You have to explain it to them!” Nakao hissed.
Before the youth could reply, Joaquin barreled past him. His movements weren’t superhuman by a long shot, but the young man’s charge was so swift and abrupt the group didn’t realize he had gotten out of his seat until Joaquin nearly ran into Sun Myung. Though they were curious, no one stopped him; the discussion inside had more importance to them than exchanging words with a cryptic stranger or minding the big guy’s business.
Caleb had already noticed someone chasing after them but didn’t stop until they were just at the door to their room. Joaquin slowed as he saw Caleb turn around, staring at him with indifference. Joaquin rubbed at his arm, working up the nerve. The young man’s desperate, searching gaze gradually hardened and he met Caleb’s eyes.
“If you know a way to go back. Please, tell me.”
“Shouldn’t you ask this of the king?” Caleb leaned back. “If anything, I’m the last one you should seek help from.”
“I don’t trust them.”
“And I’m trustworthy?”
“You’re more powerful than they are,” Joaquin’s voice cracked a little. “I felt it. We all did. At the chamber. And those things,” he gestured at the implants on their face. “they are not from here. And the candies you were eating before, too…”
“… Please, I’ll do anything,” the big guy looked lost.
“Don’t be hasty,” Caleb shook their head, smiling faintly. “You’ve yet to know this world. Maybe you’ll find an answer without involving me. Or Basraeca’s ruler. What you want isn’t an easy thing” – not to them, but the big guy needed to be reminded of the truth – “and my price isn’t cheap. You should give this whole hero thing a chance.”
“Maybe you’ll even like it,” they opened the door and stepped inside. Then as if recalling something, Caleb turned back to Joaquin.
“Just a small tip. Don’t say ‘anything’ so lightly, Joaquin. It’s dangerous.”
A faint click echoed down the hallway, leaving the young man to gaze intently at the door. Eventually, Joaquin left for his room.
And two people stepped out from the shadows.
Covered from head to toe in black, they looked like blotches of darkness in the shape of humans. From their bodies to the folds of their clothes, the two were identical. Featureless shadows but for the masks on their faces, holding a symbol of an eye pierced by a downward dagger, silvery-white on the canvas of light-consuming obsidian.
One headed to Joaquin’s room, fleeting and silent. The other stood, facing the door to Caleb’s room, the picture of stillness brought to existence.
Slowly, the figure shimmered, melting into the ground. Into their shadow. It slipped into the door gap like a body of water, invading the entity’s private suite.
Data assembling was already underway when Caleb sat down on an armchair, watching daylight coming to an end through the window. With only visual information and context, it would take a few days to finish the first game they were tackling – Grave Spring. The calculations behind the game characters’ abilities would be the biggest concern. Depending on how they’re put together, interactions from multiple mechanics could break the game’s parameters. Going into overflow or malfunction altogether.
Fortunately, their goal was to test things out, not make perfectly functional programs. That would take a lot of time. Time which Caleb wasn’t sure worth the effort just yet.
Limits on their vessel were a factor as well. Its processing capacity was adequate for ordinary purposes, not high-speed, complex neural networking, no matter the base material.
The entity also gathered the old Caleb’s soul fragments during the assembly, just in case. Fractured it remained, however, they held onto the pieces for now; recovering them was one thing, putting them together was another. Old Caleb’s usefulness had been questionable at best. And they liked the weak, distorted signals. Very useful for practicing their sensitivity to wavelengths.
They stayed on the chair, immobile until someone knocked on their door for the third time this day. It was a servant, dressed immaculately in muted grey – fitting for those lingering in the background. Caleb denied the invitation to dinner along with the offer to have food brought to their room. The entity enjoyed the light meal back at the conference room, especially those bite-sized seasoned smoked meat, and most likely wouldn’t be disappointed in the coming meal. However, they were in the mood for something else. Something sweet.
Sending the servant away, a tall glass of sugary plum extract appeared in their hand, lightly salted to enhance the taste. Reappearing on their face after the door has closed, the visor let out flashing lights as a very basic, blocky version of the game played out on the screen. The entity sipped on the chilled drink, sauntering around the room while assessing their progress.
Returning to the armchair, Caleb began. “That’s enough observation, don’t you think?” their head turned a one-hundred-eighty to peer at a corner of the room, half-hidden by the huge armoire.
Wiggling, a shadow behind the armoire took a physical form, pushing itself out from the wall. The figure was similar to the masked shadows prior, down to the tiniest detail. They stood silently in place, facing Caleb without responding to the entity’s words.
Caleb pivoted around while their head stayed fixed, eyes locked onto the figure. They took another sip of the drink and regarded the intruder.
“Y’know, I was kind enough to let you remain in my room all this while,” they smiled and their pupils spun like twin drills of viridian light. “It would be proper to state your purpose, right? Who sent you, little spy?”
Making a dash backward, the figure became translucent within a blink of an eye. They were going to phase through the door, but halted in their tracks, almost falling over as [Paralysis] took hold. Caleb glanced around to see if there was anyone else to be taken care of. It seemed this masked shadow was the only spy in the room.
“If you’re going to be rude and not answer, then…”
Pausing, they thought things over. It’d be easy for them to read memories from living organisms, as it was within the realms of possibilities for [Electromagnetism], however, was it right?
By the bounds of the [System], Caleb wondered if that application belonged to the base Gift or a subsidiary of its evolution. They could trigger the upgrade this instant, of course, but that fell under the rule of exploiting authority for personal gains. Just once when they first came was enough.
A definite confirmation would force them to look up the branches of their Gift, and that was also a no go. Thus, they decided not to seize information from the intruder’s brain.
One of the ornate candelabrums on the nightstand twisted as the entity snapped their fingers, turning into thin wires of silver. They reached out and snaked up the intruder’s limbs, fastening them together with a nice four-petal bow looped between their hands and feet. Caleb opened the door as the excess shaped themselves into legs like that of a spider’s, bringing the bound figure out and laid them on the soft, carpeted floor.
“Tell your boss I like my privacy,” they chuckled. “And come in person if they want something. Speaking through mediums is tedious, hmmm!?”
The entity was in no hurry to find out who this spy belonged to. Something this weak could have been sent by any organization, after all; they’ll keep the next one. Hopefully, it’d be stronger than this.
More powerful members of a group often held more information. Or so they imagined.
Having dropped the sack of garbage outside, Caleb lugged the vessel to the bed and have it laid down. There was no need for the thing to rest, but leaving luxurious, comfortable accommodations unused felt wasteful. Besides, had they been piloting an ordinary body, it would have crashed from energy exhaustion anyway.
It was their house, and if they wanted others to follow their rules, the entity would have to make an example. No matter how much they liked the convenience of simply commanding the world and have their whims fulfilled.
Good old Caleb needed to be responsible.
Lying on the cushy sheets, it took Caleb a few moments to realize they were still dressed in the same attire from the moment they conjured them. The clothes were, of course, spotlessly clean and smelled of pleasant things. But they wondered if it was better if they wore something else for bedtime.
They poked the beckoner around, trying to get a feel for things, but the old Caleb had nothing to suggest. Likely having paid little attention to something as mundane as appearances. The dolt didn’t even care for himself or his barony, putting all his focus on magical research; such was the convenience of having servants around.
Or a necessity, in this case. Caleb was sure the young mage didn’t have any knowledge of domestic functionalities nor any spells to aid such tasks.
Still, a good thing came out from their short dip inside the beckoner’s memories. Caleb’s clothes receded and, in their place, appeared a set of pajamas. White was not their choice of style, but it would do for now; the wool was airy and comfortable, at least.
Caleb’s eyes rolled back into their sockets, shutting off the visual feed and the entity allowed their vessel to power down. They had left the curtains opened, setting light sensitivity high enough to wake the thing at the crack of dawn. The entity would ask around to find the manager tomorrow.
If they had interacted with this world, there were bound to be traces. A religion needed a god, after all.