Thelsa sat within a small waiting room, her eyes closed as she leaned back on a leather armchair. Her legs were crossed, the right kicking in a soft motion. In the back of her mind, she kept replaying the scene from before, revisiting the image of her new client in her mind. There was obviously more to him than meets the eyes… However, she felt like she had been able to piece together a portion of his identity.
Given the level of power that he had shown… she could only think of one group with enough magic to perform such feats. This same group would similarly have the desire to break the Council’s grip on the first twenty floors and throw them into disarray.
She could even more believe that the magisters of Dawn didn’t want to handle this job themselves, carrying it out through a third party. Word around the shadows were that the Council had mobilized the Shadow Council against them recently, so perhaps they were trying to conduct a different type of war, now…
Nonetheless, even if her suspicions were true, she knew that she was still going to go through with this job. If she were being asked to assassinate someone, or steal some priceless treasure to hand over to Dawn, that would be one thing. But her mission was to assist the entire world.
Thelsa was broken out of her thoughts by knuckles rapping against the door. “Thelsa?” A gruff voice called in softly.
“I’m in here, Jax.” She called back, slowly standing up to greet the dovah as he opened the door. “You manage to get everything that you needed?”
“Thankfully for you, yeah.” He sighed, shaking his head. “Power stones are pretty closely monitored, so I had to recycle a few I used on other projects.” Jax held his hand out, dropping a copper underworld coin into Thelsa’s hand. While silver coins could similarly be used for item storage, that was when storing high quality items. Traditionally, copper coins were more useful for ‘lesser’ quality goods.
Thelsa smiled as she took the coin, pocketing it. “Thanks, Jax. If you need anything, you know how to reach me.”
The two of them began to move out of the room, Jax giving a wave and heading further in, to the establishment’s own portal array. Like with the item that she had ordered, it was necessary for smugglers and thieves to be able to move between floors without the use of the world gates. Otherwise, their movements were far too easily tracked.
In the past, this had been an impossible problem, as there had been no way to penetrate the barrier between floors. Obviously, they could not simply dig up or down. But, with the appearance of the power stones, things changed… people began to understand that powerful enough teleportation portals could penetrate the layers.
This realization made the Council heavily monitor all known mines for this ore, keeping it under as much control as possible. What had once been hailed as a miracle stone had become the key for criminals to escape their watch. But of course… they couldn’t properly watch all of it. Some miners themselves smuggled out the ores to sell for a high price.
As Thelsa walked out of the establishment, she smiled, quickly making her way to the gate. Once there, she waved down a nearby priest of Aurivy, moving to speak with him. “Can you send me to Gate’s Rest in Treben, please?”
The halfling priest looked her over for a moment before offering a kind smile. His hand stretched out, and he lightly opened a portal in the air in front of himself. For a moment, Thelsa once again remembered her current client, thinking that he must be a priest as well as a magister.
Once she had stepped through the portal, she immediately turned around, the gate to the second floor in front of her. Passing through it, she arrived at Gate’s Rise of the floor below. Without a word, she caused her body to seem to vanish, all trace of her disappearing as she made her way to a secluded alley.
Once out of sight, she knelt down on the ground and retrieved the coin that Jax had given her. With a thought, an ornate bracelet appeared along her wrist, inlaid with bright purple stones. Thelsa couldn’t help but smile when she saw that, muttering to herself. “Thanks, Jax… you always do the best work…”
“Boleer, hark.” She whispered, and her outfit shifted into an inky black cloth that covered her body from head to toe. Even her face was entirely obscured, causing her to turn into a feminine black form.
Beneath the cover of darkness that blanketed her body, a monocle flashed into being over her eye. Runic patterns danced along the outer rim while the lens depicted an entirely different scenery. If teleporting through layers was possible, then why wouldn’t scrying be? Of course… this was the Council’s personal vault, so they naturally had wards in place.
Thelsa’s eyes flashed, and she was immediately able to see the different wards surrounding the vault, the wards that were stopping her detection from going any further. Another item appeared in her hand, a disk with many layered rings. Each ring had a series of runes drawn into it, and she began to almost idly twist the different rings.
As she did so, the monocle responded, slowly working its way through the different wards. Only when she had pierced through the entire array did she set the disk down. “He said that it was in a box warded against detection spells… so let’s see how many boxes I can’t look in.”
Her monocle quickly scanned through the different contents of the vault. She saw documents concerning secret deals, artifact designs for grand weapons, and even the entrance to the Council’s Bank where they kept all of the gold that they used to pay for various tasks. However, there were only three containers that she couldn’t peer into with her monocle.
The first was obviously not what she wanted, as it was large enough to hold an entire person, let alone a pair of small spheres. Her curiosity tugged at her, wanting to see what was inside, but that was a task for another time. If there truly was a hidden war going on between Dawn and the Council, she was certain she’d be back here eventually.
That left the remaining two boxes as her targets. One of them would hold the orbs she wanted. And, thankfully, they were not too far apart. “Take me.” She whispered, focusing on the first box as her bracelet lit up, a dull purple light shining beneath the darkness. Soon, she disappeared, along with the disk that she had already configured to help her bypass the vault’s wards.
As soon as she reappeared, her body appeared to merge with the darkness. Only if someone looked closely would they see a black form placing its hand over the box. However, there was nobody around to inspect so closely. The two boxes that she had found were in a forbidden section of the vault, where dust settled heavily.
Judging by the footprints, it had been days since anyone had last been through this area. Which meant that there was plenty of time for her to slowly decipher the locks on the boxes. What she found in the first one… disappointed her.
She could tell immediately that it was the same material as the orbs, the same blue crystal. However, this was no orb, instead being a jagged shard. It took Thelsa a moment to make the connection on what the item was… a shard of the central pillar. She didn’t know when or why, but at some point the Council had broken off this shard without anyone realizing.
Bringing her hand off the still-closed box, she walked down the aisle to find the other one. Unsurprisingly, she found that the two boxes used nearly identical locking spells, and it took only a moment for her to pop the lid of the box open. She smiled beneath her shadowy veil as she saw the two orbs resting within the box.
She gave a quick inspection, making sure that there were no wards set to go off when the items were moved, before lifting both spheres out of the box, causing them to vanish in her hands. Now for the tricky part.
The forbidden archives of the Council’s Vault may have only been scarcely monitored… but the same was not true for the central pillar. Even without inspecting the area, she knew to expect a heavy guard, likely even those who would be able to detect her scrying. So, instead, she was careful, her body merging with the shadows and gliding along the floor in a thin patch of darkness.
The trip out of that section of the vault took several minutes. After she was out, she found a patrolling guard, and attached herself to his shadow. Wherever he went, she would go, so it was only a matter of waiting…
Thankfully, if there was one thing that she was good at, it was patience. She let herself rest within the shadow for what felt like hours, going with the guard through the entirety of his patrol. Eventually, he came out, and she began to move once more.
Thelsa had to be careful, only passing from one shadow to another while they were touching. Each one brought her closer to her goal, until… she hit the jackpot. As she was hiding within the shadow of a secretary, another guard passed by. This one was far more equipped than the normal soldiers of the Council, and Thelsa immediately attached herself to his shadow.
He was clearly an elite, and sure enough… he walked her straight to the central pillar. Inside the room were a dozen other guards in similar armor, one stepping out to leave as Thelsa was brought in. Going by that pattern, and how long she had waited to find this guard, she could make an educated guess. Every two hours, a single guard would switch out.
This realization had her grimace from her hiding spot. They were physically strong enough to handle twenty-four hour shifts without exhausting themselves. Most likely, every guard employed on their rotation was a Maxer specializing in physical ability. If she was discovered, her only hope of escape would be to teleport out of the floor before they got their hands on her.
If there was one thing that she could be happy about, it was that their formation didn’t have anyone directly looking at the pillar. Six guards formed two rows of three, staring at each other with a few meters separating them, creating a path from the door to the pillar. The remaining six, meanwhile, were all facing the door.
For any force coming head on through the front door, this would be a terrifying lineup. However, for Thelsa… it took her only a moment to reach the shadow closest to the pillar itself. She had one shot… one chance to complete her task and escape with her life.
She took a calming breath, and four blue orbs immediately shot out of the guard’s shadow standing closest to the pillar. The one across from him was the first to react, his eyes widening in alarm as his ki lashed out to swat the orbs away.
His ki was met with a lash of a shadowy whip, which extended from the same guard’s shadow, allowing just enough time for the orbs to leave its range before the whip was shattered. But, by that point, the rest of the guards had been alerted as well.
It was too late for them to stop the orbs, but they turned to the guard whose shadow had been possessed, their weapons striking down. A series of crashes rang out, before being accompanied by a hideous laughter. The light of the pillar seemed to dim as shadows spread out in all directions. One after another, notification windows appeared in front of all twelve guards… as well as the rest of the residents in the world. Four identical messages.
Level Limit +50 orb has been acquired!
A giant, dark shadow rose up between the guards and the pillar. Two bloody, red eyes stared down at them while a twisted grin spread across its face. “Puppets of the Council… be free.”
This was not the body of Thelsa, as she had quickly concealed herself within another guard’s shadow the moment the chaos began. Instead, this was a technique she often used to get out of such situations, giving opponents a target to strike at while she herself made her escape. It was this habit that had earned her the nickname, the Grinning Shade.