Scarlett watched Kat open the door to go in and followed behind her soon after. It led to a short hallway that opened up into a wide room lit up by several lanterns. Lines of barrels stood against the walls with tables and other wooden furniture being haphazardly spread around the room. Groups of people, most of them men but there were some women, lounged around the tables in the midst of playing cards and other activities. The place was reminiscent of how it had looked in the game when Scarlett found the Nest in her playthrough.

Everybody's attention moved towards Kat as she entered the room first.

"Who's that?" Scarlett heard one man ask the person next to them. The person merely shrugged their shoulders in response.

"What's with the hood?" a tall man with ruffled brown hair and a scar on his cheek asked. His eyes then seemed to spot Scarlett at the back. "Who are you?"

She didn't bother replying, her head turning as she took in the people here. She paused for a moment when she spotted someone she recognized. A man with a bent nose and dirt-blond hair.


He seemed to recognize her too because he mumbled something to the people around him.

"What?! The baroness?!" one of them exclaimed. The tall man with the scar looked at his compatriot before turning back to Scarlett. "You a noble?"

Scarlett looked over the rest of the people in the room before returning her gaze to the man. It seemed as if their leader wasn't here.

"None of these have relevant information. You may do as you wish," she told Kat. The scarred man got a confused look on his face but he didn't have the chance to say anything before a lump of stone slammed into him.

The others instantly got up and reached for weapons but Kat didn't show any mercy. She began casting spells at a prolific rate, knocking grunts into walls left and right. There were a couple of men that tried bypassing the Shielder to get to Scarlett but a few well-placed Aqua Mines delayed them enough for Kat to take care of them. Most of these people didn't have magical protection of any kind so they were defenseless even by Scarlett's standards.

It only took a few minutes for Kat to deal with all of them, at which a door on the other end of the room slammed open and two large men walked out, followed by a short man with slicked-back black hair and one missing eye. These two men Scarlett could see did have some kind of magical protection around them, and she recognized the other man as the boss of this little organization. He took in the havoc in the room before pointing at Scarlett and Kat. "Get those bitches! I want their damn heads!"

While the leader's two goons would probably constitute mini-bosses in the game for players around level 20 they weren't much compared to a B-ranked Shielder. Kat tossed two smaller fireballs into their chests which burned their clothes and knocked them back a few steps. Then spikes of stone erupted around them from the floor. Some pierced partway into a leg or an arm, but most missed the men themselves and instead formed a sort of cage around them. The eyes of their boss went wide. He pulled out a large axe from his belt and started yelling as he ran towards Kat. A whip of fire swung out from her hands and coiled around his right arm. He screamed out in pain as he dropped the axe and was pulled to his knees. Immediately after, thin pillars of stone rose up to lock him in place too.

Scarlett watched Kat's shoulders move up and down as the woman took several tired breaths. Clearly pumping out enough spells to take out a dozen people in a few minutes was taxing even for her. But except for a few angry cries from the boss and his two bodyguards, no one was moving in the room. Kat had done a good job.

Ignoring the scarred leader for now, Scarlett walked up towards the door he'd come from. Behind it was a hallway that led to another room.

"What now?" Kat asked as she stepped up beside her.

Scarlett turned to the woman. "The evidence we are looking for is likely to be in there. I intend to gather it so that all those involved in these ventures can be identified and arrested." That had been the way she handled the quest in the game in her first and latest playthrough, and she was planning on doing the same now. After making sure she could extract herself from the situation, of course.

Kat nodded at her statement and together they walked into what was ostensibly the leader of Stoolie's Nest's—if Scarlett recalled correctly the organization called itself the Grave Dogs or something like that—room. There was a desk filled with stuff on it at one end as well as a short shelf with books standings against one of the walls. Scarlett walked over to the shelf and began looking through the books as Kat moved to the table and started sifting through its contents. The first book Scarlett opened wasn't anything special. It just looked to be a collection of old fairy tales, some of which she recognized from the game's flavor books. She put it inside her Pouch of Holding for now and grabbed another book.

"What's this?" she heard Kat murmur and looked up to see the woman holding a reflective piece of grey metal in an even rectangular shape. It looked almost like a mirror. It took a moment for Scarlett to recognize it.

"Release that!" she cried and rushed across the room to grab the Shielder's arm. Kat jolted back and let the mirror go. It clattered onto the table.

Scarlett's eyes widened as she saw the reflective surface of the metal take on a darker hue as a fog seemed to cover its surface. It was too late. Soon, the vague visage of a face appeared in the fog.

"...Who called?" a hoarse voice rang out. It wasn't coming from the mirror itself, but instead coming from inside her mind. The sensation sent shivers down her spine.

"...A Shielder and...what is this?"

A chill ran through Scarlett as she forced herself to ignore the voice and grab the object. It was cold to the touch as she turned it around, looking for some way to turn it off.

"What is that?" she heard Kat mumble next to her.

"Who are you?" the voice continued inside Scarlett's head. "Your is concealed...protected. What...are you hiding?"

Finding nothing but a smooth surface on its back she swallowed back a curse and clenched her teeth. It felt as if something was pressing onto the insides of her head. It was never made clear in the game how you turned these things off!

"...Interesting...Who did this? you?" the voice continued, unabated.

Letting out a small cry she threw the piece of metal to the ground with all the force she could muster. She pointed both her hands towards it and created the strongest fire she could imagine. Light filled the room as a flame the size of a campfire appeared and engulfed the foggy mirror. The flames shone a deep orange, their color slowly growing more and more bright. The heat was close to unbearable for Scarlett as sweat started running down her face, but she pressed on.

"Why panic? it you fear?" The pressure inside her head was almost overwhelming. It was as if a thousand hammers were pounding to get out of her skull.

"I will...see...You can...not hid—"

Everything turned white as an burning ball of fire flew out from beside her and an explosion rocked the small room. It felt like it almost shattered Scarlett's eardrums, but the pressure against her mind immediately disappeared, along with that haunting voice. She released her fire and fell to her knees gasping for breath. It felt as if there was almost no air to breathe.

[Mana: 78/988]

And her mana was almost depleted. Taking a moment longer to gather herself, Scarlett then looked up at Kat. The Shielder was also gasping for her breath, though she didn't look to be in as severe a state as Scarlett was.

"Was that your spell?" Scarlett asked.

"Yeah..." Kat nodded her head slowly, staring at the spot where the mirror object had been. Now it was just a shattered piece of metal, the reflective qualities it had originally had gone. "What the blazes was that?!"

"That," Scarlett said, gathering her breath for another moment before standing, "should not have been here." She supported herself on the desk as she took a couple of steps, then let go and left the room with measured steps. Walking through the short hallway into the larger room she moved up to the boss as he panted and groaned while trying to escape the stone pillars that were pinning him down. Using some of her last mana, she created a fire above her hand and moved it close to his face as she leaned down over him. "Where did you get that mirror?"

She shifted it in front of his face just as he spit out a glob of saliva towards her. She heard a low sizzling from the fire for a moment and then moved it close to his ears instead. "You did not obtain that item yourself. Tell me who gave it to you," she demanded.

The man met her stare with a defiant gaze in his eye.

"Here. Let me take care of it." Kat lightly shoved Scarlett aside just as she was about to make good on her threat. She took a step back and watched as the Shielder grabbed the man's chin with her right hand.

"You're going to tell us what that thing was," she said as a fire whip formed in her other hand. With one wave of her hand parts of the stone disappeared to reveal his burned arm and the whip coiled around it causing him to grimace in pain. "Or else your eye isn't going to be the only thing you have one of." The man screamed in pain as Kat tightened the whip for a moment, before loosening it again immediately after. "Understood?" She bent down to his eye level.

"Damn bitch..." he muttered.

"What was that?" The fire tightened around his arm again.

"It was an artifact. A gods damned artifact!" he cried. The fire loosened once more.

Kat leaned in towards him. "What did it do?"

"It let us get in contact with our main buyer, alright!?"

"Who was your buyer?"

The man clenched his teeth. "I don't know."

He cried out in pain again as the flames on Kat's whip burned deeper into his skin. "I'm telling you I don't know!" he yelled. "They only contacted us through that damn artifact and never showed us their face, ok?!"

"Who gave you the artifact?" Scarlett asked.

"Some random schmuck that approached us out of nowhere. I didn't see their face but their money was good so I didn't bother asking." The man's face scrunched up in pain.

Kat glared at him. "Then how did you transport the children?"

"The children?" A look of understanding grew on his face. "That's what all this is about?"

"Answer the damn question," Kat growled and pulled at her whip.

"AAGGH! Damn it, we took them outside the city where a group of masked people always picked them up. That's all I know, I swear!"

Scarlett observed the man for a moment, then she gestured towards Kat. "It is likely that he's speaking the truth. He will not have any more information we need. You may take care of him as you wish." She honestly wouldn't care if Kat cut his arm off. Or killed him right here and now. Worrying? Perhaps. But at least it suited her situation in this world well.

The ruffled Shielder turned to Scarlett. "What? That's all?"

She nodded her head. "He knows nothing else of the artifact. In that, I believe. And there is nothing else we need from him at the moment."

Kat raised her eyebrows at the words, but shrugged her shoulders and turned back to the boss.

He looked between them. "Hey, wai—"

One blow to the head from the Shielder was enough to knock him out. Kat then looked back at Scarlett. "What now?"

Scarlett looked around the room. "I will find the necessary evidence. I believe it is best if you stay here and ensure no one wakes up and causes trouble," she said. Her eyes drifted towards the injured leader. "And perhaps treat those who you do not want dead."

Kat nodded her head and walked to the center of the room, pushing away tables and chairs that had fallen over some people. Scarlett took one last glance at the woman before walking back into the boss' room. Her eyes paused at what remained of the mirror artifact on the floor.

...She really hadn't been expecting to run into that this early.

She could still remember that pressure against her mind. Trying to pry into her very thoughts.

The Angler Man had been much more terrifying than she'd imagined. But the presence of that artifact, a [Mirror of Communion], begged the question of why it was here to begin with. She was certain it hadn't been present during this questline in the game. The first appearance of one of those wasn't until several levels later. So why was it here? Had things changed from the game? Or was it because she completed this part of the quest much earlier in this world than she did in any of her playthroughs? Maybe The Angler Man had always been behind these people, even in the game. It was possible that it was something the player might have been able to find if they just reached this place earlier.

Scarlett pulled her attention from the mirror. There was no way for her to know right now. The Angler Man had noticed her, which was bad. But it wasn't what her current focus should be on.

She walked up to the shelf with books in it again. As before, she picked up a book and began sifting through it. When she didn't find anything noteworthy she put the book aside in her Pouch of Holding and went onward to the next book. She repeated the process until she picked and opened up a certain book.

[Quest Completed: Find evidence of the Grey Dog Gang's criminal activites]
{Skill points awarded: 2}

She stopped to look up at the window of text that had appeared before her. Then she looked down at the book in her hands and turned a few pages. It appeared to describe several transactions between different individuals and organizations, with terms such as 'merchandise', 'assets', and 'expenses' used quite generously. At first glance, there didn't seem to be anything off about the records in the book. But after taking a closer look she noticed some suspicious things. One of those was several inspections permits, dated at different times, affirming that the inspections had been performed without issue. Scarlett knew those were fabricated, probably with the original Scarlett's help too. She doubted it would take much investigating to prove that. It wouldn't surprise her if there already were warrants of arrest out for some of this gang's members. But if one were to dig into these records one would undoubtedly find more dirt on both the gang and its associates. Presumably.

Satisfied for now, Scarlett put it and the remaining books in her pouch. She then left the room and went back to Kat, who was in the middle of tying up the last of the thugs she'd taken care of with some rope she had found. The masked woman looked up at Scarlett as she approached.

"You finished?"

Scarlett gave a slight nod of her head in response. "I am."

"Then what now?"

"We leave."

Kat's eyes widened. "Just like that?"

Scarlett stepped over the arm of one of the "Grey Dog Gang" goons and towards the door they'd entered through. "We have enough evidence to ensure that those responsible take some responsibility. The rest can be taken care of by the count's men. I am certain the Shield Guild can contact them expeditiously enough." It didn't really matter much to Scarlett whether these particular people were taken in or not. She had gotten what she needed and resolved the immediate situation. All she needed to do now was deal with some of the aftermath.

"What about that artifact?"

Scarlett paused and turned to Kat. "What about it?"

Kat's blue eyes met hers through the hood. "What was that? That...thing. You recognized it, didn't you?"

Scarlett looked at the woman for a while. "...It was dangerous," she eventually said. "Not something you should occupy yourself with in the future."

The Shielder stared at her for a moment, then shook her head. "Fine. Let's go. I want to check up on those kids again to make sure they're well anyways."

Kat let go of the man she had just finished tying up and stood. She then followed Scarlett out of the room as they left Stoolie's Nest behind.

It had been a long night.


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