After bringing their plan to Honeygreen, it was decided that Wepish would play the role of Max’s master. He was the obvious choice for the situation. He was loyal, he had already met Max, and his class and skills played well into an undercover persona. He was Honeygreen’s most trusted spy, after all.
“I don’t like this plan.” Wepish said to the room.
Everyone was currently at the inn, and they were just finishing up preparations. Max wore torn shaggy rags, they reminded him of the first time he met Reep. It felt like so long ago, but in reality, it was just about a month. Max had a small emblem painted on the back of his hand, a similar one could be seen on Wepish's hand.
“Yes yes. We’ve heard you, and Max. We get it. You don’t like the plan. Shut up!” Vel snapped.
Both Wepish and Max did not like the plan. Besides the whole slave issue, Max didn’t like that he would be separated from the rest of his team. Clammy, Reep, Bishop and Emi were going to keep searching with the guards for potion guzzlers, while Vel would stay in range to help Max if he needed it. It was decided this way to be the most time efficient. They didn’t know when the attack was happening, and this would allow them to cover the most ground.
It wasn’t all bad, Max and Emi could still communicate between their bond. Range mattered little when it came to bonds. Lester and Icarus can be testament to that. But still, this would be the first time Max and Emi split up other than back at the mansion when Emi would hunt. It worried both of them more than they would care to admit.
Wepish didn't want to go on with the plan because he was scared of Max. Wepish had a long and complicated history in his service. He had been to multiple warzones and seen his fair share of horrors, but never has he been so afraid. Something about Max’s nonchalant show of power capturing an Elemental Stalker shook him to his core. Afterall, he knew what they were capable of, devouring souls of the dead and forcing an internal afterlife of damnation. Anyone who could capture them must be monsters themselves.
Belopi also looked worried. After finding out about her daughter, Belopi has remained by Max’s side most of the time he was in the inn. All of her hopes and dreams in life had shifted from running a successful inn and getting past old trauma, to an unknown future. She was scared, and found comfort in talking with Max. She didn’t know all of the details, but she understood that Max was going to potentially be in danger.
Max looked himself over in a mirror. He scoffed and activated his auto equip function of his inventory, storing his rags and changing into his normal robes. If danger found him, he would be ready.
“Ready?” He asked the room.
Wepish swallowed his doubt and stood. He was wearing slightly fancy and ornate robes. Orange and gold linen with small leaf designs. An outfit from Honeygreen’s personal collection. Max couldn’t lie, the Elf looked good in them.
“Alright you two, come here.” Captain Ism said while laying out a large map.
The map looked similar to what Max saw in his mini map, but less detailed. He could see streets and underground tunnels, along with foundational lines. Ism pointed to a small sewer grate.
“That’s the entry point. The password is Falcon.” He looked to Wepish. “They are going to pat you down and take your weapons. I find it pointless since you can simply buy a new weapon in the market, but I digress. I suggest you give everything you need to Max.”
Wepish struggled, but eventually handed over his trusty daggers. Both men knew that Max was key in this plan. If something happened to Max, or the two of them got separated, Wepish was screwed.
“Got it.” Max said. “Can you give me a description of what we are walking into.”
It was Wepish that answered this time.
“Large underground market of illegally obtained or simply illegal items. Some stuff is sold legit, but they are still skipping taxes. I’ve been there a few times; I know where to go.”
Ism and Max eyed the man.
“Well, it doesn't matter. Both of you have everything you need?”
Both men nodded and headed for the door. Vel was waiting for them, along with the others. Clammy and Reep both hugged Max, causing him to worry. I’m I missing something? Why are they so upset with me leaving? It’s not that dangerous… Right?
A massive hand slapped Max on the back.
“Good luck Max. You have the flare signals I made right?”
Max summed a small, corked bottle. Lighting bounced off the insides, making a small zapping sound. It was literally lightning in a bottle and Max loved it. The idea was simple: throw the bottle to break the glass. Lighting and a hell of a lot of light will explode out. It was more of a flash bang than a flare, but Vel would be able to see it anyways.
Emi and Max shared a moment. Max hugged the small creature and sent reassuring messages through their bond. Emi, most out of everyone, was worried. She was a hatchling after all, something that most everyone forgot.
Max and Wepish headed out. The sewer entrance was just that, a sewer. It smelled and it was slimy, rates and other rodents ran rampant. Gross. Max thought while he walked through sludge barefooted. They followed the corridor down until they were met with a large metal door.
Max didn’t understand all of the politics, but it was decided that the bootleggers would remain. One of the [Arbors] argued it was a form of necessary evil, and the city would be better off with it. Every decade or so, this argument is brought up, and each time the vote is close. Esmel is a city of export, and the bootleggers brought in a large clientele. They couldn’t tax the underground market, but many of the items sold were created using taxed materials.
Wepish knocked on the door in the special rhythmic pattern. A sliding hatch opened, and large yellow eyes peered through.
“Falcon.” Wepish said with complete confidence.
The door opened and they were gestured in. Max was excited to see that the floor past the door was much better kept. There was no unknown dark sludge, it still smelled but it was a start. The two passed the bulkily Elf after a pad down and entered the market proper after a long hallway.
The market was huge. A large natural cavern with artificial support beams draped in bright colorful linen. Max was in awe; it was nothing like he imagined. It looked just like a normal market, but simply underground. There was no evidence of illegal activities besides the occasional fist fight, and the rough clientele.
Many sold jewelry or expensive clothes. Others sold questionable heirlooms or books. There were many simply selling food. Peddlers and homeless shook cups and yelled at them as they passed by. Both ignored them, after all they had a job to do. The first stall they found was small. A shelf and a display case were all the woman had, but the color and effect of her stock was unique.
“Looking for a love brew? Maybe a poison of some sort? Hmmm?” The woman Elf was missing teeth and had only a few strands of hair. “Is that a human? How much?”
Wepish was taken back by the unexpected question. He resolved himself and began his interrogation.
“Not for sale. But I am in the market for mana potions. A lot of mana potions.”
“Ah, what you see is what I have. Not much use for mana I am…”
Wepish nodded and went onto the next question on his list.
“Any potions that can combat late-stage mana poisoning?”
“Ah, an elixir… Didn’t your mother tell you those are fairy tales? There is no cure all potions.”
She spit on her S’s Max noticed.
“Nothing at all? Nothing short term or pain removers?”
“I have pain dampeners, yes… But nothing for mana poisoning.”
“I see. Thank you for your time.” Wepish began to move, the woman started yelling deals to his back.
“Fucking [Witches].” He muttered.
They moved further down the streets. They passed by people who looked like they needed help, Max had to force himself to stick to the plan. It hurt him seeing people like this.
Does Lesterwood have an underground like this? He wondered.
They found two more potion sellers. Each had mana potions, but neither had the bulk supply they were looking for. Both also came back negative when Max looked them over for evil. They did have a lead on a potential high roller in the potion game. After a bribe, one of the vendors told them of a man who people often placed large orders from.
They found him leaning against a wall, just like the vendor told them. This was his wall, and all of the regulars knew it was his. The man wasn’t afraid to kick some ass, if someone was in his spot. The man was an Elf, of course, but unlike other Elves, this man was short. He had a rare mutation that stunted his growth. Max knew the term Dwarfism was prevalent on Earth, but Nava actually had Dwarfs, so he figured that might be a racial slur.
“Shorts?” Wepish asked the man.
“Yeh? Who’s asking?”
“My name is Welsh, and I am in the market for a large supply of mana potions. I heard you were the one to talk to about bulk orders.”
“Yeh, that's right. What are you looking for, numbers wise.”
“Say… A thousand? More even?”
The Elf’s eyes widened, but quickly returned to his poker face.
“Why... Why are you in the market for mana potions if you don’t mind me asking?”
Both Max and Welsh noticed his out of place question. From his little experience in this place, Max was able to tell that you do not ask questions about why a customer wants something. Unless it is used for clarification, vendors don’t ask many questions in general. Shorts was supposed to be a high roller, he was supposed to be the guy everyone went to. Both Max and Wepish felt his question didn’t equate to his reputation.
“My benefactor needs them for an upcoming experiment.” Wepish replied.
“That human again? No. I said it before, and I’ll say it again. I. DO. NOT. SUPPLY. FOR. NOBLES. Especially Human sort.” He kicked some dust at Max.
“Someone else has tried to purchase a large supply of mana potions from you? How bizarre. But no. My benefactor is of the… Wooden type.”
“Ah. [Arbors] once again. I tell you; I hate dealing with those scum.”
“No deal then?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Tell you what. You tell me about this human noble, and I’ll come back when I need more.”
“The human? Sure. Crazy he was. Wore a large hat and your typical noble dress. Similar to you, but human… Now that I mention it… Are you sure you aren't a noble? Pretty fancy threads you got on.”
“No. I am not. Do you think an Elven noble would come down here? To this filth? Disgusting. I had planned to just send him down, but… you know how humans can be.”
“Heh, don’t I know it.” He gave Max a challenging stare. “The noble kept talking to himself. Like someone was next to him. Asked to procure as many mana potions as possible of the highest grade that I could. When I said no, he was looking to fight, but I wasn’t afraid of him!”
“I’m sure, I’m sure. Did he say what he wanted the potions for? I don’t want my benefactor to be blindsided by competition, see?”
No, all he gave was a delivery point. But I told him to screw off at that point.”
“Delivery point? Hmm…. Do you do… Physical work? Or do I have to go elsewhere for that?”
“Not here no. But that information is going to cost you.”
“Just add ten percent to the total for the potions. I’m sure that’s fair?”
A smile of pure greed elongated on his face. “Ten percent? Sure? A tavern called Leaky Oak. Said he was friends with the owner. The creep.”
Wepish smiled. “Now then. Where do we go to get our potions?”
“You don’t. We deliver orders that large. Can’t have you coming to the warehouses now can we?”
“Half payment in that case? Rest on delivery?”
“That is standard…” The short Elf pulled out a pad of paper. He did some rough math but eventually found a total. “Three hundred and sixty-three gold now. That much again on delivery. Speaking of that, where do you want it delivered?”
Max had to hand it to the man. Wepish did not break under the casual fortune he was spending.
“Do you know of the Moon’s Crest? Eastern industrial district. Small building with a moon for a sign. Can’t miss it.” Wepish said.
“We’ll find it.” He held out his hand. Expecting a sack of gold.
“Do you… Accept bank checks?”
“Agh!” Shorts shook his head. “Yeh, that's fine. But gold on delivery.”
“No problem.” Wepish handed the man a written bank slip. It was similar to Earth’s bank checks, as Max understood. Some small differences, but the primary concept was the same.
The two walked off, leaving Shorts at his wall.
“What now?” Max whispered.
“Now, we wait for him to move and follow.”
It took a few hours but Shorts eventually left his wall. Max and Wepish followed him to a rundown warehouse. They had left the sewers and Max decided it was a good time to let Emi know what was happening.
Hey Emi, we got a lead and currently are outside of a warehouse. The man we followed said he was approached by someone matching Mallor’s description. I’ll keep you updated.
Shops boring. She said back.
I know, we'll be going back to Lesterwood sooner than later at this rate.
Oh not you too.
Max only heard soft laughter.
Max and Wepish were watching the warehouse from a covered position. By now, Max had changed back to his normal clothes and fixed his hair. They watched Shorts enter the building. It wasn’t even a few minutes later that Shorts ran out of the building. He looked pissed, his silky white skin was deep red. He ran off down the street causing Max and Wepish to follow.
They shared a look, one of mutual confusion. Shorts entered a rundown beat tavern. Max signaled to Wepish to stay, and after a quick change of clothes, Max entered. Max was now wearing a dark hooded cloak. With his hood raised, the only way for him to be recognized as a human would be his height. He figured if Shorts was a regular, then no one would bother him.
The tavern was decrepit. Max felt he walked into an old biker movie. Everyone glanced at him when the doors swung open, but quickly ignored him. The clientele was rough and rounded, weapons and scars were prevalent on each person.
Max found an empty seat near Shorts. He was yelling at a burly… Orc? An Orc? Is he a resident?
As Max listened, he was able to piece together the parts he missed. The Orc was the warehouse’s bodyguard, and he wasn’t at his post. The warehouse was robbed, and now their entire potion supply is gone. Not just mana potions, everything.
It was strange watching Shorts yell at the Orc who was maybe three times larger. As Max watched he realized something was off. Magically off. Max stood abruptly causing a few eyes to focus on him. He walked straight over to the Orc, ignoring the yelling Elf. Max checked the Orc’s pulse, it was low. He looked into his eyes; they were full. He asked a few basic questions. The only answer he received was, “Ale for me. Keep them coming.” His mug was full and flat.
“Call the guard.” Max said to Shorts. “He’s been charmed or mind controlled or something.”
Shorts finally made the connection with who Max was. His eyes went wide, and he fell on his butt. Max strolled right past him, out the door. He signaled to Wepish and the two of them made their way back to the warehouse. Max explained what he saw in the tavern.
“Shorts’s bouncer was charmed. Someone stole his entire stock. I bet I know who.”
“Mallor.” Wepish said, ignore the word bouncer. “We got to tell the others.”
“I agree, but first we have to investigate the warehouse before the guards arrive. I’ll tell Emi to start to come this way. We can meet up after this.”
Wepish nodded, contempt with the plan.
Emi, we found a charmed Orc, and the warehouse is missing its potion stock. I think we should meet up. Can you get the others to head this way?
He received an affirmative in response.
The warehouse was large. Not as large of some of the ones Max had installed tech systems for on Earth, but large for Nava standards. The industrial district was slightly different from the rest. Since there were hot foundries and forges in this area, the building code was different. Here, metals and enchanted wood reigned king. Other materials such as brick and mortar were used, but the overall nature theme was still prevalent.
They entered the warehouse. Max’s first impression was that it was dark. There were no lights.
Weird. Max thought.
He materialized a torch he kept in his inventory. He figured it might be useful one day, and he was right. With a lit torch, they were able to see a few meters farther. They made their way around the inner perimeter of the building.
Rows of shelves populated the center, some of them had items. Max wasn’t focused on the shelves; however, he was looking for signs of entry. Halfway on the opposite wall from the door, he found the break in. A tunnel had broken through the floor. It was dark and scary; Max chose not to investigate it further. Max felt something, however.
From the edges of the hole, he could feel what he contributed as plague. Plague ran rampant through the tunnel. Max stopped Wepish from getting too close.
“Plague.” Max explained.
“Oh Peneil, save me.”
“It’s okay, I think. We are far enough away.”
Suddenly, movement. Something shot from Max’s flank straight into the hole. Neither men could see what it was, but Max felt it.
“Stalker…” He spoke.
“We have to go.”
Max agreed and both men turned and ran. Running in the dark was weird to Max. Obstacles that Max didn’t give a second thought to earlier; became hazards. Max had to jump and sidestep random things. His Space Aphinity was helping, but it took too long for Max to decide what to do for each obstacle. Does he jump a chair? Does he sidestep a box? Does he jump a giant bug? Wai-
Max reacted fast, falling into a baseball slide. He landed on his leg wrong, however, and heard a pop. Pain shot through his ankle, forcing him to limp. Water was quickly brought forth wrapped his sprain. It was at this moment that Max realized he was alone.
“Wepish?” Max whispered.
He closed his eyes and felt. Behind him the giant bug slammed into shelves and boxes. He could tell it was searching for him, but it was as blind as he was in here. He looked in front of him, Wepish had somehow made it to the door. He swung it wide open letting light in from the bright street. The light allowed Max to see the correct path, but also allowed the bug to see him.
It started to chase. Max summoned the lightning in a bottle flare. He couldn’t throw it yet, since he was inside, however. Max started to use water to inhibit the bugs movement. Spike and column were created and frozen in front of the beast. The thick structures seemed to slow it down, but the spikes glanced off its chitin.
Max realized he was being stupid. He launched an ice spike at the ceiling. It easily tore through the thin metal roof. A water bolt carrying the bottle quickly exited the same hole. Max did something he had seen Vel do a few times. Crush. The bottle burst into lightning, turning the midafternoon sky bright.
The bug was gaining. Max now had a choice. Let the bug focus him in the warehouse, or run outside allowing the possibility of it wreaking havoc. The bug was big. Bigger than a horse, or even than an elephant. It was a beetle of some kind. Its oval shape clued Max on that.
Max shook his head, deciding. The risk was too high. If the bug was the one that made the hole, that means it is plague aligned. If that got into the city… How many lives would be lost. A sphere of water quickly enveloped Max. He could hear Wepish shouting, but he was ignored.
Emi. I’m in trouble. I broke the bottle, but Vel still isn’t here. A plague beetle is in the warehouse.
Emi could follow the bond link to him. He only hoped she or Vel was fast enough.
He had to ignore her reply in order to dodge an incoming slash. His domain shield was good, but he wasn’t willing to risk it. With a new plan in his head, he got to work. Water flowed across the floor, turning into ice. The bug lost its traction, slipping into a shelf. A water cube came next. It lifted the bug off center, causing it to flip on its back. Scythes were launched next. They only scratched its armor.
Think Max. Think. What would Vel do? He got an idea. Drown it.
Max pulled from the air; water began to gather. The moist air helped, but this was the most water he’d gathered since the Rain Cloud during his first quest. A ball of water doubles the size of the bug sat in between him and the recovering beetle. From the entrance of the door, Wepish gasped.
Max stood still, waiting. His domain was gone, it was added to the drowning pool. He quickly thought about creating a small methodical bubble just around its nose and mouth. But he knew he lacked the manipulation level for something so surgical. The bug was now on its feet. It shook off its spinning head, and focused on Max. It charged.
The behemoth splashed into the bubble, causing water to explode out like someone did a cannon ball into a pool. Three walls of ice shot from the ground, forming a partial box around it. Its momentum was gone, and it didn’t even reach the ice before it stopped completely. Max over-estimated its charge throughput and had added the walls as contingency.
It took a few minutes, but it died. He made sure with the notification.
Congratulations, you have killed a level 36 Gargantuan Plague Beetle!
You have gained 26,173 Experience!
Holy shit, half a level.
Max dropped the control over the water. It splashed out into the empty warehouse. A scared Wepish meandered over.
“Yo-you killed it.”
“Yeah, no thanks to you. I thought you were supposed to be the guardian here.”
“It doesn’t matter. Where is Vel? I thought she was supposed to be covering us.”
It was then that he felt it. Pure unfiltered despair.
Vile and despicable air rushed over Max and Wepish. Vel landed next to Max. She was looking in the same direction as him. Towards the hole.
“Max. He’s coming.” Vel whispered.
Buzluc is here. Max said to Emi. He felt her panic. Vel’s here, don’t worry.
“What do we do?” Max asked.
“You two, focus on surviving. Max, you are going to be critical. Wepish can’t defend himself well enough against the bug swarms.”
“I understand.” Max knew he was outclassed. This was a battle of giants, and he was a measly ant. Sure, he might have killed one giant bug, but that was a minion to the man Vel was about to face. Max pulled some water from around him and Wepish.
“There is a lot of water around from my fight.”
“Boy. What did you think I was doing when you were fighting? Twiddling my thumb in my ass?”
Max looked at her confused. But then he noticed. The air. It wasn’t just moist, it was wet. Millions of droplets of water stood motionless before her. Thousands of pounds of water filled the warehouse. Max didn’t have words.
Vel smirked. “My gourd is a lot deeper than yours. Infinite even.”
Max checked on Wepish. He was shaking. He didn’t have the trust in Vel like Max did. He didn’t have the defensive magic like Max did. He used to be proud of his invisibility. He had evolved it at an early age, but now he realized he was simply a coward. A coward with that can be invisible. An invisibility that a kid saw though.
“Get ready, he’s here.” Vel whispered.