Re: Interference Chapter 23- Black Hand

<<Why did you not tell us sooner, Levia?>>

I look at her, a surprised expression painted on my face. She looks down, and raises her shoulders as if to shrug my question.

<<I…suppose that I did not want to make you lot worry too much. And, if I told you what happened, I think Retel would have done something stupid, like running off to track those people. You do not know him enough, but he has that rash, irrational side that comes out when someone close to him gets hurt. It happened a lot back when we were still living in Nudria, he’d run off to confront people who bullied me, and he would return covered in bruises and wounds. Heod…I do not want to make him worry. I think we already gave him a fair share of heart ache, so…>>

<<Still- I interrupt her- you cannot just hold something like this from us, Levia. This, this is serious. I mean, I get your concerns, although I do not approve them, but, you could at least speak with me, or Marica, instead of sitting there, like nothing happened>>

She shakes here head, with a sad smile on her face.

<<Well, I’m speaking with you right now, so. And…it might be strange for you, but, after what happened with the Guild, I do not trust Marica enough to speak with her in these terms. I mean, I know you’ve forgiven her for what happened, and believe me, I’m trying hard to do the same, but I cannot bring myself to trust her after what she’s done. I do not know how you did it, since you’ve been the one most damaged by her stupid behaviour>>

I look at her, surprised by what I hear. That’s really something that I had not imagined. Up until now, she’s been spending time with Marica, and I thought the two of them had a strong bond forming between them. Apparently, I’ve been wrong. Very wrong.

<<This has nothing to do with what happened back then. And, for that matter, you seem to forget a little detail. She saved our lives, back when we were ambushed by those rogue adventurers. So…>>

This time, Levia interrupts my words. She raises her voice, only to lower it down after a moment. She’s blushing, angered.

<<I KNOW…I know…and that’s why I am trying. But every time, I fear that she might do something like that again. And it’s not only that, Roshal, all this situation we’re in, it’s just…absurd. First, the village, then here, Sendria, the Guild, the Dungeon…and now, Aldora, and war. War! Why is this happening to us? I do not want this, I…I want to be safe, I want Retel, Heod to be safe. And everything is going in the opposite direction since we met you>>

I sigh, deeply, sitting on my bed. She’s standing near the door, her arms crossed on her chest. Looking down, her breathing still in disarray, her face slowly losing the red tinge that her temper brought.

<<I…did not mean that. Sorry>>

She stutters, muttering an apology. Well, it’s not thas she’s not right. I’ve basically dragged them all with me, following this empty goal for whatever reason.

I smile to her, trying my best to sound, to be as secure as I can about what I am about to say.

<<No, it’s ok. But, think about it. Would things be different, if you decided to not be here?>>

This time, she looks at me, with a perplexed look in her eyes.

<<Of course they would>>

<<Yes. Most likely, no, definitely, I would be dead right now. This bed, this room, they would be empty. And you, Retel and Heod, you would still be in Nudria. Dead, most likely>>

She scoff, shaking her head.

I pause, for a moment. I need to choose my words carefully, right now.

<<Or, if you survived whatever happened back in Nudria. How would things be? You would be safe, for a while. But, no matter what, Aldora would still be here. Perhaps, if you were not there today, that group of soldiers would have attached someone else. Killed them even. Or worse, they could infiltrate the city, and do a lot more damage. Instead, because we met each other, and after all the stupid mistakes I made we found ourselves here, you were there today. And, even if those soldiers managed to wound your Master, you and her managed to send them running with their tail under their legs>>

She changes her position, her arms no longer crossed.

<<What I am trying to say is…no matter what we did, things would still be dangerous. Because this world is dangerous, and things far bigger than us are moving. Back then, they would have swept away, both me and you, and the people we care about. But, by being here, we grew stronger than before, Levia. Think about our situation, what we were when we came here in Sendria, and what we are now. Heod, he was a discriminated potion maker in Nudria. Now, he’s a famous alchemist, his product sell for tens of gold each. Retel, and you. What were you back in Nudria? How did people treat you?>>

To my question, she clenches her fist, biting her lip.

<<And now, what are you? Accomplished adventurers, with a good livelyhood. Taught by some of the best among the Guild’s own ranks. And what was I before, and what am I now? I woke up in that forest, and I was nobody. No family, friends. Money or a place where to live. A stupid boy thrown in the middle of nowhere. Hell, I did not even speak the language. And now, I have a place to live. I am making my livelyhood here in Sendria. And I have all of you. Perhaps you might think that things have been worse for you, since you met me. And, if that’s how you feel, that’s fine. But, I do not think that’s true. To me, it surely is not. I’ve changed since I met you, for the better I think. And I have been grateful to every single stupid decision I’ve made, to every danger that I stuck myself into, because it led me here, Levia. It’s something that I myself was not aware of. But, some recent events have forced me to think a lot, lately>>

I scratch my head, and after that, I change my position on the bed. I lay on it, my arms raised back and my hands joined under my head. I am no longer looking at Levia, setting my eyes on the ceiling instead.

<<This is not something I’ve told to the others>>

I laugh, smiling to that thought.

<<It seems we both had the same idea. Isn’t it fun?>>

I can almost imagine her face snarking at me right now.

<<Still, remember all those things I said, about me coming from another world? Well, I just discovered that it was nothing more than a load of bullshit. Sure, I have those memories, but, it turns out those are fake. My own memories, my personality. What I am. All built by some thing that calls itself God. To what purpose? Who knows. I was born like this, carrying memories that are not my own. And, all those decisions I took, all the things I did back then. I acted that way because of this. Basing my decisions on the man I was, here, in my head>>

I sigh, strecthing my limbs before starting to talk once again.

<<Now, how does this connect to what you said? It’s because, I feel the same as you, in a way. You, I think, are feeling trapped by all what happened. Like we lost control of the thing around us. The Guild, Aldora and all that. To me, it’s the same. Worse, if you really consider things>>

I get up from the bed, and go near Levia. This time, I look at her in the eyes.

<<The thing is, what we did, what we could have done. It does not matter. We’re here, right now.

And we can go on in two different ways. We can sit down, and mumble about things, complaining and pointing fingers. Or, we can push forward, and take things into control. I am trying to go the second way. And I will, no matter how difficult or dangerous it is. Forget about those silly “what if”, and “ if only” scenarios. Forget about pointing fingers, to me, to Marica. Honestly, I never would have guessed you for the type of person that would do this. Move forward, Levia, you need to. A storm is coming, and you will be swept if you still behave like this>>

<<Who do you think you are to speak like this? Move forward? To what, to get myself killed? To see my brother, or the man who cared for me like a father, get killed?>>

She’s shouting now, and I can hear some noises from the other rooms. She countinues to cuss at me, angered. She hits me, more and more.

There is no strenght behind her punches, and her hand stops after five, or six punches on my chest. She starts sobbing, grabbing my shirt as she rests her head on my chest. I can feel her tears wetting the fabric of my shirt, reaching the skin under it.

I let my hand caress her hair.

<<I am afraid. It’s not like when we’re inside the Dungeon, fighting monsters. If war breaks out, it will be a massacre here. I fear what could happen to Heod, to us all>>

<<I know. I am afraid too>>

<<I am sorry if I told you those things. I did not really mean them…it’s just…>>

<<I know. Things have been hard, and you’ve been keeping all this under your skin. It’s good that you got that out, and I do not blame you for that. Only, next time something happens, promise me that you will speak to us immediately. Do not keep all for yourself to deal with, Levia. I am here, we’re here for you. Remember that. Now, let’s go tell the others, and decide what to do afterwards>>

She dries her tears with her sleeve, nodding with her head afterwards.

After that, we head out of the room, waking up the others to let them know what happened.

The discussion goes on and on until morning. Retel was furious about what happened, and he was about to go out as Levia imagined.

It took a shout from Heod to make him cool his head, the first time I’ve ver heard the old man angered. He was furrowing, concerned and furious.

Still, he made us all sit down, and reason. He made us talk in turns, sorting out the things between us.

During the discussion, the thing between Levia and Marica came up. Heod forced them to clear things between themselves.

When I asked the old man about it, his answer surprised me.

<<I already imagined something was troubling my little girl here. But, to be fair, I eavesdropped on your conversation earlier>>

He said so, sharing a tired smile with me.

In the end, we decided to report matters to the guild. But, before we managed to actually go to them, an emissary from the Guild came knocking on our door.

He brought news about Levia’s Master. Apparently, she has woken up, and her wounds have been treated by the Guild’s best healers.

After giving us the news, that eased Levia’s mind in a visible way, the emissary told us that Levia’s presence was required by Telesia.

Outside of our house, a carriage was waiting. We boarded it, heading to the Guild’s Headquarters.

<<So, tell me once more what happened. Focus, and do not leave a single detail behind>>

Levia closed her eyes, taking a big breath to calm herself.

She then started her tale, telling what she did whitness the day before.

<<We were out in the forest, beyond the mountains. Master took me there in order for me to train, and we went there alone. Only me and her.

We began the usual training session. Do I need to tell you the details about that too?>>

Telesia shook her head, inviting Levia to proceed with a gesture from her hand.

<<Right. We spent roughly the entire day there. It was almost time to go back, one hour before the Sun set. It was then that Master heard something unusual moving through the woods>>

Raising his hand, Elith interrupted Levia’s tale.

<<I’m sorry, young miss. But this Master you speak of, she’s the one called Andria, am I right?Andria the Silver Arrow. If I correctly recall, she held, and still has, a perfect detection skill. So, are you implying that somehow, she failed to sense that enemies had already surrounded the area?>>

Although his tone is polite, his sharp eyes are glaring at Levia.

However, she does not back down, staring back at him.

<<I am not implying this. I am telling you that it happened. And not for lack of attention from my Master, or negligence on her part. It was because those people, they were immune to skills. And, it seemed like no one among their ranks used skills or magic, either. They were insanely strong, although their levels were fairly on the low side. They attacked us using only weapons, but, even when using only physical attacks, they managed to bypass Master’s defense and hurt her>>

<<So, it really was them>>

Elith muttered under his breath, looking down with a sad expression on his face.

<<Please, continue>>

Telesia once again beckoned Levia to finish.

<<When we realized their presence, it was already too late. Thankfully, Master managed to repel the brunt of their assault. But, those people hurt her. Badly, as you already know. And, like I said, they brushed off both Master’s and my own skills like it was nothing. She even used magic against them, to no avail. Only physical strength worked, and if I am here, I owe it to her arrows. When the assailants managed to wound her, I grabbed Master and ran away, as fast as I could. I used my skills, specialized on healing, to try and treat her injuries, but…>>

Although she maintained a strong front, Levia cracked when remembering her master’s wounds, how everything she tried did basically nothing.

Even when Andria herself reassured her, telling Levia that it was thanks to her skills that her life was saved.

I think, she’s being a bit too hard on herself right now.

She was still shocked, and she was trying to pull herself together. Although she only knew her master for a handful of days, she was deeply troubled by seeing someone so strong as the famous Andria fall like that.

Thankfully, Levia’s Master was out of danger, and she recovered quickly under the care of the Guild’s best healers.

She was in the room with us, listening to her pupil’s version of the story. Although she was standing, and seemed to be fine, the woman herself had no recollection of what happened after she fainted from her wounds.

And that was the reason that brought us here, in Telesia’s office.

They had already heard part of the story from Andria, but they still missed those moments after Andria lost consciousness.

During the night, I had convinced Levia to speak about this to the others, and then go to the Guild to denounce what happened. But, it seems like Telesia beat us on time.

After all, an involvment by the Guild in this matter was to be expected. And, frankly speaking, I expected the other higher ups of Sendria to show some interest in the matter. Perhaps Telesia is the one mediating the parts, assessing the situation before making what happened public domain.

I feel like sitting on the edge of a precipice, staring right down at it. The situation in Sendria might rapidly devolve into something nasty.

After hearing Levia’s version of what happened, Telesia dismisses us from her office. Before sending us off, she requested that each of us continue our usual activity with the appointed tutors from the Guild.

She did so with unusual concern behind her words. Perhaps, I did not think about this side of it. But, by assignign each of us to some trusted adventurers from her Guild, she’s probably both keeping an eye on our group, and protecting us.

Levia and her Master are to remain in the Guild’s main building. The others too were forced to relocate the site of their training, and their respective tutors were waiting for them right outside Telesia’s office.

We did not even have the time to discuss things among ourselves, as the Guild personnell pressed us to go on with our respective activities.

<<Focus. Is there something distracting you?>>

John shouts at me, marking his words by sending the three summoned beasts to beat me up. Since this morning, my head has been too much concerned by what happened, and I have been unable to focus on what is going on before my eyes.

My thoughts are running, returning to the discussion between me and Levia. Although she apologized, saying that she did not mean to say what she said, I think that her words were true. Perhaps, she spoke like that because of what happened to her yesterday.

The attack where she was involved, and barely escaped.

But, I think there might be some deeper reasons for her to behave like this. And, the fact is that I do not blame her. After all, I’ve been a mess of a leader until now.

That matter is only a small part of what is running through my mind at the moment. The sudden appearance of Aldora soldiers, that’s what is really concerning to me.

There might be a small chanche that the perpetrators of yesterday’s attack might only be sympathizers of Aldora, perhaps some locals that hold the same fate as those of that country. But that, it’s only whisful thinking.

Most likely, Aldora is ready to make its move, far quicker than Telesia anticipated,and, despite the Guild’s surveillance, they already reached Sendria.

Perhaps, they even managed to sneak some members of their army inside the city already, waiting for the right moment to strike.

So, excuse me if I am distracted. I have all the reason to do so. The simple thought of having even one of those so called Heroes rampage inside Sendria, it’s enough to make my skin crawl.

And there’s also that bastard Alvares, plotting who knows what from the shadows. All my instincts are screaming at me to run away, as far as I can from this place.

Of course, I know it will not solve anything at all. Because, no matter where I would run, war will rampage in this whole continent.

Back when we were in Telesia’s office, she let us on what was really going on. Aldora and Sendria were only a small part of the whole political picture.

There are two other large kingdoms in this continent, as Telesia told me when, this morning, we went to her to discuss the recent happening with Levia.

But, those two countries are currently “enjoying” war between each other. That situation lasted for about ten years, a large war of attrition, and both kingdoms are nowhere in shape to repel Aldora if they ever decided to attack them.

Sendria, along with some very small kingdoms and independent cities, are the only things standing between the already large Aldora Holy Kingdom and the two warring powers.

A total war between them is the most likely scenario, if Sendria falls.

That is not a given thou, it could be that Sendria somehow manages to repel Aldora for enough time for the other countries to recognize the danger and form a united front. If such thing is even possible. This too, it might just be whishful thinking.

The thing is, running away is not an option. And I ridicule myself to even think of it, after all that tall talk I did with Levia.

As I am distracted by my own thoughts, one of the summoned beasts lands a direct blow on me.

I fall to the ground, holding my stomach while resisting the urge to vomit.

<<Fuck…this hurts>>

I mutter, trying to get up on my feet again. John’s training has become something merciless. He increased the strenght of the spell he used on the room, and added two more summoned beasts to the mix.

Whenever I get hit, he heals me, and he strenghtens the beasts as punishment.

Moreover, I am forced to incapacitate them without using my skills or physical attacks.

In short, I need to use magic to win. Of course, things are not so simple. One beast, it can absorb electricity and use it to power up its own attacks.

Another, it can quickly absorb or disperse heat, nullifying any kind of spell that relies on heat manipulation.

The last one, it’s the thoughest so far. It has a long range attack, that is basically a stun shot made of compressed air.

I’ve been struggling against them for almost the entire day, and now I am beginning to be fed up by all this.

Again, John yells at me. He’s a demanding teacher, without any doubt.

Still, his annoying voice has managed to pull me from my thoughts, enough for me to find a solution that was basically staring me right in the air. The three monsters are the solution to each other. One counters the weakness of the other.

The only thing to do, is find the right way to attack one without letting the others interfere. After that, it will be a piece of cake.

I try several spells, managing even to combine two spells into a single attack.

A surge of electricity, and using the resulting heat from the movement of excessive negative charge to fuel the chemical reaction that would spark and ignite a fire.

The alternance of heat and cold on a single point, and using the resulting energy from the cycle, to move electrons toward the same point.

John is grinning, perhaps he’s enjoying the show.

I’ve also begun to practice one of the few practical advices that he shared to me.

Think little. Two simple words. Before even trying to think about large spells that handle huge quantities of magic, I need to learn how to focus a little amount of power to achieve the best result from it.

And so, although the spells I am using sound amazing, the whole thing happens in a space even smaller than the palm of my hand.

That does not reduce the danger they pose, however. Even if their scope and magnitude is small, or perhaps, exactly because of that, the destructive power they have in their limited range is high.

Instead of acting like the magicians of this world, the better understanding I can achieve with those “memories” of mine allows me for better control of effects and power, and the reduced scale, it amplifies the effect even more.

Moreover, it makes the spell more unpredictable. Launching a big fireball from your hand, no matter how quick you are, it always requires a gesture. The spell has a fixed origin point, and a predictable trajectory. In short, a skilled person can easily avoid it.

With larger scale magic, like the spells Marica uses, it’s roughly the same thing. The need to let your own mana flow into a large area, it makes it possible for the opponent to be aware of the flowing mana, and get away from the area.

Even if you manage to cancel the spell, some mana is still consumed in the process. And if your opponents repeatedly does the same thing, you will exhaust your mana before even landing a blow.

Whereas, when the spell are is small, less mana is required to trigger the spell, making it quicker. Without a clear starting point, since the reduced mana quantity makes it possible to activate the spell basically wherever you want, it is even more difficult to predict, almost making it impossible.

So, even if the spell has a small area of effect, it still packs quite the punch.

<<So, satisfied?>>

I shout at John, after defeating his three beasts.

<<Hm. Still lacking, my friend. Sloppy, and you took too much time to deal with them. A real opponent would have killed you one hundred times already>>

Thanks for telling me things I already know.

But, it seems he deems that the training was enough for today.

Before I head to the surface again, he forces me to sit down and tell him whatever was troubling me.

He listens, strangely without even uttering a single word.

<<Hm, they never change>>

Says John while shaking his head. After all, he should be from Aldora, if his tale is true.

Staring at me, he asks a question.

<<What do you want to do about it? And, before you answer, think. Not what you feel like to do, not what you would have done. Think, I want an answer from the real you. Not that jumble of a fake personality, but what lies underneath it, the true Roshal>>

As if something like that could even be possible. I tell him how I feel, how I want to run away.

His answer is a slap across my face, sending me sprawling on the floor.

<<Wrong answer. And if you saw the expression you have on your face, right now, you would know why. This, running away, this cowardice, stupidity even. This is not who you are. You keep doing the same mistake, over and over. You measure things not for what they are, but for how they relate to your previous experience, the mentality that you carry over from your memory. That is nothing more than a load of bullshit. Now, I can understand why you did so before, since I did the same when I did not know the truth. But now? You keep hiding yourself, even losing yourself behind that fake persona, Roshal. That man in your memories, that loser, he never existed. Even the same people that actually lived those memories, they did not behave like that all the time. So why should you? You are not like that. I know it, I see the face you have when you fight, when you struggle. And when you manage to win. That’s the real you, when you stop whining and actually do something. I know it, your friends know it. The only one that fails to understand who you should be, who you already are, is you. So, stop acting like a pussy, stop wanting to run away and tell me once again. What do you want to do about all this?>>

I clenched my fist, almost not believing the words that came out of my mouth.

John smiled, his first, real smile.

<<That’s a fucking good answer>>

He offered me his hand, helping me to raise on my feet.

<<Now, my dear pupil, open your ears widely and pay attention. The way I see things, you’ve been letting yourself to be swept away by events, up until now. We both know the reason, so there’s no need to dwell on it. You’ve always been passive about things, only reacting to things after they happened.But, now things are different. I do not know if you yourself have realized it, but you’re strong, Roshal. You have enough power to stand for yourself, and make your own path. You have the power to make things happen, Roshal. So, you have a choice here. Continue acting like a little bitch, or man up and take matters into your own hands>>

John stares at me, his arrogant, smug smile taunting me. But, hell he’s right. I’ve been cowering enough since I woke up in this world. It’s time to take matters into my own hands.

And that, it’s easier said than done.

There are two things right now that are directly menacing me and my group. The first, and most obvious threath is represented by Aldora, the looming threath of a large scale war between Sendria and the Holy Kingdom.

The second one, less obvious but not less dangerous, is represented by Alvares and whatever the hell that man might be plotting.

He’s directly responsible for the criminal acts in the Dungeon, by sheltering and arming Leidus’s group, and lately he’s rumored to have gained control of Sendria’s criminal underworld, using it to commit murder and spread unrest in the city.

Most likely, he wants the popolation to demand the Army to take control of things, offering him the opportunity to instate martial law and gain full contol of the city. Perhaps, he might even be in cahoot with someone from Aldora.

Although, if the is, he will be in for a nasty surprise. Being people that discriminate against magicians and skillholders, if they really are allied with Alvares, they will turn on him at the slightest chance.

The man himself is powerful, but perhaps that very power is causing him to act too arrogant.

Right now, I do not have the slightest clue as to what to do against Aldora. But for Alvares…

It was something that John showed me. If a spell was used as a connection, it needed to transfer information from one point to the other.

<<And, my friend, that means that the communication channel can be used both ways. Normally, it would take a very skilled magician to do something like that. And, if the original caster is someone smart enough, it would be a difficult, impossible task even. But, your circumstances are a bit different after all. So, take your time, think about a solution and dazzle me if you can>>

With that line, he suggested that the spell Alvares cast to spy on me, I could use it to do the same on him. During my permanence in the lowest floor of the Dungeon, John had been tampering with the spell, preventing Alvares from gaining intel on my whereabouts.

When I asked if he could remove it, he said yes, but he did not remove the spell. Now I know why. He wanted me to use it.

And, that’s exactly what I did.

<<Why are you helping me? Aside from the fact that you owe something to Telesia. But that’s just in regards to training me. The rest…why?>>

After scratching his head, he gave me an honest answer.

<<I actually like this place, Roshal. Set aside the fact that it keeps me alive. What would happen to the Dungeon, if Aldora won against Sendria? They would seal it. Cutting the mana flow from the surroundings, it would wither away. All the environments it stores, the creatures. All would wither.

So, that’s your reason here. If you manage to take out Alvares, Sendria will regain control of its army. And have a better chance to resist invasion, perhaps even win>>

<<Yeah. So, it’s just to save your own skin?>>

He laughs.

<<Well, you could say that>>

Seeing him laugh, what he said about the circumstances that brought him here come back to my memory.

John is bound to this place, unable to leave the lowest floor. If he gets too far from the Core, he dies. As simple as that. Back when he was still a human, he got ill. A brain tumor, something that, apparently, not even the highest class healing spell can cure.

The only solution he found for it, was when he came to the lowest floor of the Dungeon. In here, the Core’s power are almost divine. In order to cure himself from the tumor, John thought of using the Core’s power, but something went wrong with the process. He was cured, but bound to the place.

He showed me what would happen to him if he ever left the place. That time, he walked me up to the last level’s exit. As soon as he set his hand outside the exit, it became ash instantly.

To live, he was forced to look for an unhortodox solution, and confined himself here as a result.

<<It’s not a hard life. To be fair, I quite enjoy myself. Seeing the adventurers fight against my creatures is better than any tv, and, when I am really bored, I can even take control of Champions or Guardians, and fight as if their body was my own. Oh, do not worry. When I do it, I make sure that the adventurers win. I’m a nice Dungeon Master>>

During the next days, I divided myself between training and information gathering.

It was difficult, at first, and many times I only managed to keep the connection for no more than a handful of seconds.

Day after day, however, I managed to make it more stable.

The spell itself is something smart, I have to admit. It relies on lines of mana, capable to convert the vibration of sound into electric signal, and transmit those signals at distance.

At first, I used the signal to locate Alvares. As my comprehension of magic grew with time, I was able to spy back on him first, then even tamper with the signals that the spell sent to him. In short, I’ve been using the spell to feed him false information, and to gather some of my own.

Of course, Telesia was thoroughly interested in what I did, even going so far as to come to my private training grounds inside the Dungeon to listen what info I managed to gather.

That man, Alvares, he’s needlessly prudent. Going so far as to use coded communication for his shadier dealings. Still, he did so by using spells, and it was fairly easy to deconstruct the code he used.

As to how I did it, let’s say that among the collection of fake memories that I have in my head, there are not only the acts of a loser.

From chemistry to physiscs, from biology to coding. For each memory of the fake “me” failing at that supposed, otherword life, there were shards of knowledge from that very world.

Now, with a bit of exercise, I can even see the real memories play in my mind. Like a movie of some sorts. The point of view is always mine, but now I see clearly how it was not me the one doing those actions.

Subtle differences between each memory, something that I had not noticed before, only recently after knowing what to look for.

Like, comparing some memories, the height of my supposed “old self” would be different. Or the way I moved. Even speech patterns.

And, although it sounds like a paradox, since I knew that those memories were not my own, I have been delving into them more frequently.

Only those that helped me with the right knowledge, that is.

It is still weird, since from time to time I still act basing my decisions on what I would do, using that morale that was never my own to begin with.

It’s even hard to explain, like being two different persons at the same time.

But, as time goes by, that person is becoming less and less, and I’m becoming me.

Hell, that sounds so stupid when said out loud. I wonder what a shrink would say about me.

Still, it’s undeniable that I am making progress here.

<<Although, you still lack a key ability, my dear pupil. You are too honest. When something happens, it immediately shows on your face. When you’re upset, your voice trembles. Man, you need to learn how to act>>

And so, besides lessons in magic, combat and refining the use of my skills, John has also begun teaching me acting.

How to act, and how to lie in a convincing way.

Two weeks have passed by, and I’m ready to make my move against Alvares. During that time, the others have already completed their training. Much to Telesia’s surprise, since she thought they required more time to do so.

Not that they are neglecting exercise right now, continuing to follow their respective Masters in order to hone their skills but, as things are right now, it’s something unnecessary.

They’re doing it in order to go further what was expected of them.

Also, during this time, things have been moving between my party members.

After being basically forced by Heod, Levia has made her peace with Marica. I lost the count of how many times Marica did apologize, but, right now, things between the two seem to have reached a stable point.

Well, they’re acting friendly with each other, at least. It might also be thanks to Retel, since he actually started going out with the little magician.

I have to admit, he surprised me. No more than some times ago, he did not even have the courage to speak to Marica alone for more than ten minutes, and now, he’s happily enjoying his newly budded romance.

Way to go, my scaly friend.

So, convinced by both Retel ad Heod, Levia began to face her problem with Marica, until the two of them came to an understanding.

And she also went out of her way to apologize to me. Although I did not consider what she said to be hurtful, or negative. Well, most of the things she said to me that night, I too found them true.

Still, she felt somehow like she owed me an apology. But, that’s it. She’s acting colder than she had before, barely even speaking to me.

And I do not know why.

One thing I know for sure. No matter if my memories are fake or not my own, I still do not understand a thing about women.

Still, I have more pressing things to think about at the moment. Thankfully, Aldora has not yet made a decisive move, aside from that attack last week.

But, that is due to a more sinister reason.

As Telesia feared, Alvares IS conspiring with Aldora. I do not know if that man is just a big fool, or if he’s arrogant enough to think that not only Aldora would respect the pact they made with him, but would also happily hand rule of all Sendria’s territory in Alvares’s hands.

He may be an arrogant fool, but his powers are definitely no joke. From what I gathered by using his spell in reverse, he has the Army under control not with legit methods, but by using a combination of drugs and spells.

It’s a plan worthy of a supervillain, let me tell you. By administering a strong drug to the regular members of the army, he induced them in a hypnotic state, manipulating them using dreams.

The drugs he used are undetectable, and the modification they induced into each man’s mind are subtle.

They do not change behavior or give rise to strange changes in personality. Rather, they work by activating some mechanisms into the brain, making each army member feel a sense of paternal authority rise from Alvares. They follow him as a father, loving him as such.

With spells, he increases the effect, being wary as to not overuse his magic, and to not leave traces.

By the way, he uses the same mechanism to control Leidus.

He’s keeping the other Candidate Demon Lord hidden. Alvares’s initial plan, was to have him kill adventurers inside the Dungeon, stealing their skills while increasing his own level. He was to be used as a weapon against Aldora, after Alvares rose to power in Sendria.

His plan is ambitious, albeit a bit too convoluted.

It played with two different scenarios, in Alvares’s mind.

The best-case scenario would be if he managed to obtain the rule of the city without requiring Aldora to invade.

He knew that, if the foreign army moved, Sendria would suffer a blow. He wanted to rule, but not over a pile of rabble.

He wanted a city, a functional one.

And so, he moved his pawns, both army and underground mob, in order to spread unrest in Sendria and its territory. Aldora would have the role to press at the borders, sending small but constant raiding parties.

A village here, a merchant caravan there. The attack near Sendria’s walls.

That, would spread unrest among the citizens, along with the rise in criminality. Next, Leidus’s party was supposed to take out adventurers, making it explicit that it was the work of other adventuers. Then, they would start operating outside of the Dungeon, attacking common people. That way, the citizens, already concerned by Aldora and criminals, would turn against the Guild, responsible for not keeping its adventurers under control.

The whole situation would lead to a demand for the Army’s intervention. The attacks near the city have already reached the result to allow Alvares to concentrate troops near Sendria, as protection, and forced the Guild to send out strong adventurers to patrol the borders. Aldora was supposed to do its part, and it did, by taking out those adventurers.

The increase in criminal activity would lead the people to demand a strong response from Sendria’s ruling class.

Hopefully, and he was working to that end with cohercion and bribery, the Council would pass the bill for him to enstate martial law upon the city. A matter of days, he thought. Weeks at most.

Then, he would deal the decisive blow against the Guild, using Leidus to stike the outposts in the Dungeon, and his net of criminals to assassinate those prominent adventurers still in Sendria.

After that, Aldora was supposed to invade, and lose to Alvares’s army. He would be deemed a hero then, the saviour of Sendria.

That was his best case scenario.

But, things had already gone in a different way. The Guild proved to be a thougher adversary than he thought, and Leidus’s party was hunted down, chased from the Dungeon after our involvement with them.

At the same time, although he actually managed to concentrate the army near Sendria, the adventurers dispatched from the Guild to border patrol were doing a better job than expected. Or, those Aldoran bastards were doing their jobs poorly.

In short, his best case scenario was already gone to shit.

What was left for him to do, was to wait for Aldora to invade, and let the army lose on purpose.

Even to me, it seemed like the dumbest thing he could think off. But, as I tapped in his conversations, I noticed something about the man.

He’s not himself. He is not even aware of this, but sometimes, a faint mana can be felt, entwined with his own.

In short, the man who is a master of control spells, he’s being controlled by someone.

Karma is a bitch, apparently.

The puppetteer is nothing but a puppet himself, and of course, Aldora is the one pulling strings from the shadows.

If things are left like they are, when Aldora attacks, it would be a true massacre.

Removing or killing Alvares would do nothing to prevent that. It could even backfire, given the affection that his spells have ingrained in the Army’s soldiers. They could rebel if Alvares is killed.

No, what has to be done, it’s something different.

The first move should be to regain control of the Army. Find and eliminate the supply of the drug, and think of a way to cleanse the army from it.

Thanks to my information, the Guild is already on the move on that front. They have already been able to locate and acquire samples of the drug, and a certain beast-kin alchemist is already working on a substance that would counter its effects.

Administering it to the soldiers, without letting Alvares know, would be difficult thou.

Next, the spells he cast on the soldiers need to be unraveled somehow.

And that will be a difficult thing to do, although a selected number of magicians from the Guild is working on that.

After those two objectives will be completed, it will be time to confront Alvares.

But, there’s something else to do, that involves me directly. To prevent Leidus from acting inside of Sendria.

Thanks to Alvares’s spell, I’ve been able to track down my fellow Candidate. And, I’ve used the same spell as Alvares cast on me, on his pupil. My version is modified, so that it should not be possible to track the spell or use it in reverse, like I did with Alvares.

And, I must admit to be rather proud of my own creation. Not even John was able to detect it when I cast the spell on him, so I strongly doubt that Alvares or Leidus could manage to do so.

At the moment, Leidus is once again inside the Dungeon. He is in the thirty-fourth floor, power-leveling himself thanks to some high level soldiers that Alvares “lent” to him.

His level is now forty-two, and growing still.

From time to time, he kills those adventurers that come into contact with him, stealing their skills before disposing of them. When we first met, he would have done the same to me, and who knows how things could have gone if he succeeded. Like the one I have, he too has a skill capable of “stealing” other skills. Unlike my Black Fluid, however, he actually steals skills from living opponents, without the need for absorbing them. And, judging from what I saw, his skill only works on humans. In short, he can only steal skills from adventurers. Like me, he passed both the first and second trial, gaining two “fragments” of the Crown, whatever the hell that means.

To pass the second trial, he used the information Alvares gathered from spying my fight in the tenth floor.

Strangely, he has not encountered any trial after that. And it frustrated him, oh so much.

I smile while thinking about it, since to me, the third trial has already been revealed. It’s a really fucked up system, I need to admit. To think that something like this would happen, that Azathot must surely have some loose screw in its own head.

If he even has a head.

The plan has already been laid out, and I am ready to set it in motion. First, thanks to my Dungeon Master friend, I will move to Leidus’s location inside the Dungeon.

It might seem rash, given my level and the high probability that not only Leidus and his party members, but also higher level monsters might attack me.

But that is no longer a problem.

I’ve tested myself inside the lowest level, and, even if my own level is still twenty-two, I managed to keep my own ground in there.

Rather, my level is still twenty-two because John prohibited me to kill the monsters I defeated. He did not forbid me to absorb them, however, and I gained some ridiculous skills after that. There was a good reason for John to stop me from gaining experience in the last floor.

Raising my level too much in a short amount of time, would kill me. Kind of what happened when Dahl used his over-powerful skill, my body would not be able to handle the excessive energy and it will disrupt itself.

What he suggested, is that I hold my current level until I manage to beat Leidus.

When I asked him why, he shrugged his shoulder and said.

<<To send a message. And, one more thing. When you do it, remember about Alvares>>

In short, I am supposed to challenge and defeat Leidus, alone, underleveled. And to make Alvares see, without tricks.

That John surely comes up with some nasty ideas.

Still, it’s time for the show to start. Sadly, the others are not involved in this new adventure. It was another of John’s impositions, and I had to abide to it.

After all, we fake souls have to listen to each other, and he’s my elder and master, so…

I close my eyes, and summon my mana. Using it, I pry open the veil of this dimention, slipping into the void beyond worlds.

It might seem too much powerful of a spell for the current me, but I had a similar ability since my first day in this world. After all, this spell works exactly like my skill “Inventory”, only some slight modification are required. And roughly the same mana cost.

Apparently, slipping between dimensions is easier than one would think. Who the hell would have imagined that.

I think about the destination where to open the veil again. I track my own mana, the sliver of it that I cast on Leidus.

Once I find it, I open the veil once again, stepping on solid stone.

The air in this Dungeon floor is oppressing, heavy with sand and heat. It’s a desert scenario, and Leidus’s party is busy fighting some giant scorpions.

Basically, Champion Serketh’s elder brothers. It seems that this Dungeon likes to recicle some of its monsters a bit.

They’re still unaware of my presence. But, as the last scorpion falls, Leidus notices me. As he does, I undo my tampering on Alvares’s spell, returning it to its original form.

<<Hi. Remember me?>>

I’m making use of John’s intensive acting course here. Although, deep inside, I am almost pissing myself in fear, I keep a straight face and a calm voice. And, the most important things, a piercing gaze and a cocky smile.

<<Seize that fucker>>

Leidus shouts, sending its own men to attack me. Of course, he wants me alive. I bet my balls that old Alvarez already told him about my skill, and his mouth is watering at the thought of getting it.

Well, come, fellow Candidate. It’s all yours.

As his men reach me, I do not resist too much. I try to fight back, but not too hard. One of them, a level forty- three warrior, punches my solar plexus. Of course, a blow from him would hurt me too much, so I use my mana to lessen the impact.

Not by making a shield, but literally altering the force of the impact itself. I know, this is too overpowered. Magic is really ridiculous. The only thing that scares me right now, is that the Heroes from Aldora have the same kind of knowledge and understanding of magic that I achieved. Most likely, even more.

Still, the blow hits me, although definitely less powerful than it was. I bend on myself, falling to my knees as I fake pain, even going so far as to spit blood from my mouth. Of course, it’s only Black Fluid with changed color and viscosity, but they do not know that.

The two men apprehend me, dragging me towards Leidus. The beastkin is smiling viciously. It seems he is one eye short than our last encounter. On the right side of his face, a large white scar comes down from his temple to the chin, going straight down in a vertical line.

His right eye, what’s left of it, is hidden under his forever closed eyelid.

He points at it, with a fierce expression on his maimed face.

<<You see this, fucker? That’s what happened to me when those dogs from the Guild chased me, after you and your little friends ruined my fun. But hey, apparently you’re so stupid to come and face me alone. Thank god, you’ve saved me the time to look for you. Rest easy, after I am done with you, I will look for your friends>>

He brags and treatens me, behaving like some low-life gangster. He then barks to his men to keep me still.

<<This is going to hurt, and I am going to enjoy every moment of it. Black Hand>>

I can feel him summon his own mana, that gathers on his left hand. A black flame envelops it, dancing in a sinister way. He plunges his hand into my chest, going through it.

A painful sensation spreads, and I manage all I can to endure it.

Smiling, he pulls his hand back. Taking something from inside of me. As he pulls his hand out, a black globe pulses in his palm, oozing a black fluid almost like it’s bleeding.

<<Disgusting>>

He says, furrowing at the black globe. But he starts eating it. When he’s done, he turns toward one of his lackeys, and shouts.

<<Black Fluid>>

My skill manifests from his hand. A large tentacle of black, shambling matter sprungs toward the man, taking hold of him, crushing him to a pulp. Leidus smiles, viciously, as he plays with the skill, changing its shape at will.

<<Impressive>>

A monster emerges from the sand. Another scorpion, that immediately rushes to Leidus.

I smile as he kills it with my own skill, slashing the thing into two.

<<It’s even more powerful than when I use it>>

After my comment, Leidus bursts out into laughter.

<<You’re really fucked up, you know that?>>

Well, he’s a bit wrong here. I am not the one who’s fucked up. Maybe, just a tiny bit. What’s really fucked up here, is this whole system.

As Leidus prepares himself to deal the killing blow on me, Navi’s message plays in my mind.

[Navi: Third Trial- Trial by Greed Initialized. Conditions to Start- Have your Black series skill stolen by the other Candidate Demon Lord- Condition Met.

Condition to Clear- Kill the other Candidate Demon Lord while he holds your Black-series skill

Condition to Fail- Own death. Failing to kill opponent: Leidus in given amount of time (2 hrs)

Good Luck, Master]

Yep. That is truly the most fucked up thing I could ever imagine. To win, I had to let my strongest skill be stolen from me.

Judging from how Leidus killed the monster earlier, he has no fuckin idea of my skill’s effect.

And, I think this trial might have been rigged in my favor. After all, poor Leidus could never even enter the trial. To do it, he should have let me absorb his skill, but, that would have killed him.

Seriously, what the hell is that Azathot thinking…

Before Leidus’s attack connects, I use one of the spells I developed with John’s guidance. Similiar to the spell I used to appear here, but with decreased range in favor of an almost instantaneous activation time.

<<Blink>>

I mutter, letting myself carried by momentum. My body disappears, reappearing behind one of Leidus’s lackeys, the farthest one from my previous position.

Unable to sense my sudden presence, his throath his easily pierced and ripped by the small knife I am using.

As the man collapses on the ground, I stare towards Leidus.

He turns toward my direction, hearing the muffled gurgling that comes from his subordinate’s slit throath.

I smile, ready for the next strike.

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