A bright light suddenly flashed in Zachariel’s eyes. Fear emerged in his heart and he heard the voice again, “You must survive!”
Roars of metal creaking, being bent and ruptured entered his ears, and Zachariel felt he was thrown to the void by a big force.
Zachariel rolled on the bed and fell to the floor head-first. He wasn’t annoyed this time and accepted his fate.
His eyes absent-mindedly stared at the wooden floor with a fine and smooth texture, emitting a fragrance he hadn’t smell before.
Noticing the different environment, Zachariel stood up and looked around.
He saw that the entire room was wooden, with the king-sized bed taking up a large space in the center. Curtains were hanging on its sides, and a dresser with a mirror on its right, where he could see his own beautiful reflection.
There was a large chandelier in between the large door and the bed. Its small magic lamps emitted a vibrant light which made Zachariel feel at home.
On the other side was a row of windows leading to a perfect view of a garden outside.
Zachariel approached it and put his hand on the window frame. Rows of blooming flowers about to wilt and flowers about to bloom were showcased. Butterflies, bees, and other insects flew up and down in the maze-like garden.
There were also trees on the sides, giving shade under the red light of Solus.
A few people could be seen going in and out. They watered some of the plants, while cut some of them, forming figures and shapes of various sizes.
There was a fireball, a horse, and even a statue of a female human figure in the center of the garden.
Zachariel suddenly noticed a familiar figure within the group.
`Helena? Am I at her house now? But how did that happen?`
It was impossible for Helena to take the initiative in taking him to her house. That would be insane on her part and her family certainly wouldn’t allow that.
Moreover, she didn’t even notice him staring at her, nor discussed him when she talked to the people around her. If anything, she was rather depressed, as what was displayed on her beautiful face.
She was looking at the lovely flowers while sitting lonely on a bench. Her hands were tightly clasped and tears fell in her eyes. She closed it and murmured something inaudible.
`Wait, didn’t her mother do something about the dark mist two days ago? Don’t tell me her mother’s afflicted by it and now her mother’s corrupted.`
Zachariel felt that he had understood the reason why he was here, and who brought him here.
`But what’s the reason? Is it because they know I’m related to the dark mist? Or is it something else?`
The former would make him worried since his secret could be leaked. Amidst his panic, a gravelly voice called out on him.
“Enjoying the sights? Beautiful, isn’t it?”, the voice said mockingly.
Zachariel turned his head to the right to see who it was.
A bulky and very tall man leaned on the wall sideways, smoking a pipe like a badass. His white short hair and beard in his battle-scarred face displayed a sense of both beauty and maturity.
He was wearing a thick black coat that expanded his already big body.
“What you looking at, boy? Speechless about my beauty, or my niece’s?”, the bulky man smirked.
“Senior, are you the one who brought me here?”, Zachariel asked, not providing an answer to his other question.
The man’s eyes glowed in interest. He curiously observed Zachariel, “Oh, what makes you think that?”
“The one who rescues the dog takes the responsibility of looking after a dog.”
“And you think you’re a dog, young boy?”,
“No, I don’t want to, and I will never be.”
The bulky man snorted.
“You’ve got some interesting phrases over there, young one. Surprise me some more, and I won’t even object if you court over my niece.”
“I don’t plan to since you want me to do something about you, right, senior?”
The bulky man noticed that Zachariel had kept his cool and indifference during their short exchange of words.
“Straight to the point, I see. Let me introduce myself first.”
The man put down the pipe and waved his hands before making it vanish.
“You can call me Von, the, well, how do you say, some bored man working for this household. The Summer Household.”, emphasizing the last three words.
“Obviously, you know that things aren’t as bright as the household name, so I won’t explain much about what happened.”, he smirked.
“I understand, senior Von. You should know also well that-”
“Hmm… Yes, your sister’s missing. I know.”, Von nodded his head as if he already knew about Amelia’s kidnapping incident.
Zachariel wasn’t shocked about it.
“I’ve already taken care of those guards you took out. And nobody else knew what happened inside that alley. Well, apart from you and me, of course. As for your sister’s case goes, I’ve got some ‘connections’ I could ask help for.”
He then pointed his fingers at Zachariel, “Though I’ve got to clear this right now, boy. My ‘connections’ have a rather sensitive information about who they are, so we’ll only give you information about where your sister is holed up. If they’re related to this saving the damsel in distress thing…”
Zachariel narrowed his eyes, “They would have something to explain to their superiors, right, senior?”
Von smiled, leaving a small chuckle.
`I like this boy, he’s got some brains.`
“Moreover, you’re the knight-in-shining-armor type of guy.”, complimenting Zachariel.
Zachariel wanted to ask something but Von interrupted.
“Ah, I forgot. You see, your talent with regards to handling dark mana essence is something I’ve never seen before.”, Von said, circling his wrist while speaking.
Zachariel was intrigued.
“Just to clarify things to you, all dark mana essence users can only temporarily use the absorbed mana essence. But you, on the other side of the world, could even store it inside you.”
“And how can that help Helena’s mother’s case?”, Zachariel didn’t feel compelled to do it now.
Von rolled his eyes.
“I obviously wouldn’t let you absorb all of it in the first run. We’ll conduct some tests first and see if you can do anything about that dark mist. If you could, we proceed with the offer. If not, you could forget what I said earlier.”
Zachariel weighed the pros and cons of Von’s deal.
`I don’t know where Amelia is right now, and I wouldn’t be able to ask help from the others as well. If I could ask for his help in this time…`
He clenched his fists. In his mind, he already knew that he will be able to do something about the dark mist in Helena’s mother. After all, he had been dreaming about Haferna, Nerval, and their powers.
`Nerval and Haferna. These two people, I know they are related to me. No, I am related to them.`
With regards to the scene of Nerval ‘dying’ in his dream, he knew it wasn’t true at all.
Zachariel was able to survive a wraith’s fatal attack on him once, Nerval should be able to do something about it as well.
`I have other choices, but they’re not as good as this opportunity in front of me. He’s not some bad guy either. I don’t know the other reasons about him bringing me here, but might as well try it first.`
Zachariel released his clenched fists and took a deep breath.
“Fine, I’ll do it. Anything else, senior?”
“Well, yeah. I told you this already. If you could surprise me even more, I can guarantee you some…”, Von paused for a moment, glancing at Helena down in the garden, “…bonus rewards.”, winking at Zachariel.
“I’m not interested in that, senior Von.”, Zachariel bluntly replied with indifference. Saving Amelia was the most important thing to do for now.
Von shrugged, “Well, she’s not interested in you, you’re not interested in her… But I’m interested in you. And not in the way you think it is, but because of your talent, Zachariel Strom.”, he corrected with a serious look in his eyes.
If Zachariel could prove himself in front of him, Von wouldn’t decline if the boy asked for his company as well.
“I am pleased that I have taken senior’s interest in me.”
Von smirked, “Come, follow me.”, turning around and took his pipe out of nowhere, puffing a smoke.
Zachariel followed and left the room.
Down below, a female servant walked in the garden. She was wearing a Victorian-like dress with a brown headpiece.
Helena had long stopped crying and called out to the maid, “Julie, what is it this time? If they want to talk about the succession thing, I won’t go back with you.”
There was a hint of anger in her second phrase.
Julie stopped in a distance and suddenly bowed at her, “Young madame, a person outside said that she’s one of your friends. She has a silver hair and would want to talk to you.”
“Victoria? Why is she here?”, Helena wondered.
She stood up and waved at Julie, “Okay, I’m coming.”
Von and Zachariel went down the stairs and arrived in a large mess hall. There were three huge tables with dozens of chairs on the sides. A door in the further back could be observed, probably leading to the kitchen.
Guards in golden armor patrolled or stationed the area. Maids and other people traveled inside the large mess hall.
The clean floor reflected his image and the huge windows on the sides allowed the cold winds to come inside, providing a satisfactory ventilation to everyone.
A lanky-looking young man dressed in ginger mage robes approached them. He had a long curly ginger hair with freckles on his face.
He had the vibe of an outgoing and friendly person, with a little laziness behind it.
“Oh, Uncle Von. What do you have here, another servant for the household?”, the lanky you man joked.
“Joey, did you just come back from the borders?”, Von waved his hands.
“Yeah, yeah. It’s so tiring hunting out every day.”, Joey’s upper body slacked. It looked weird due to his lanky build.
“Anyway uncle, who is this guy?”, pointing at Zachariel, then closed in on him, raising one of his eyes as he analyzed Zachariel while encircling him.
“Is he… my cousin’s groom?”, he stepped back and thought for a moment.
“Hmm… hmm… looks nice, has a calm demeanor. Young boy, what’s your name?”, Joey had a wide smile on his face.
Von’s face twitched, “Joey, he’s not Hele’s groom or something.”, whispering in his ears, “…yet.”
Joey’s eyes enlarged, “Oh, I see.”, Joey smirked, “So why’s he here then, Uncle?”
Von surveyed the area before gesturing to Joey to follow him. Zachariel went along with the flow.
“Joey, you must’ve already known about Madame Lena’s condition, right?”
“Yeah, I heard auntie’s corrupted by some dark stuff. Moreover, some of the side family branches want to take over while Lord Bilmy is gone!”
“You’re right, and it’s not some peaceful takeover they’re planning. They want to purge the main branch as well.”
Joey was appalled when he heard about Von’s statement.
“Although I can handle all of them myself, Sir Bilmy’s not going to like my methods either.”
Von cursed the side families. If it weren’t for Bilmy being a kind-hearted fool who always thought about the wellness of every Summer Household member all the time, Von would’ve thrashed them already.
“Uncle, have you sought out help about auntie’s condition?”, Joey worriedly asked.
Although he himself belonged to the side branches, he wasn’t as ambitious nor greedy as his uncles or aunties, or cousins, or siblings.
“You’ve already talked to him.”, Von pointed his thumb behind.
“Eh, a young boy like that has the ability?”, Joey doubted, and he had the right to do so. After all, Auntie Lena was in the Lesser Divine stage, a very far stage compared to Zachariel who was still uncalibrated or untested.
“Joey, trust me on this. I’ve never failed the household once, and you know that.”, Von assured.
Joey hesitated. If Zachariel failed, his auntie might die. Who knows what he might do to the young boy who only wanted to help?
He didn’t answer his uncle.
The three left the mess hall and exited outside. Zachariel then saw a mansion-like l-shaped building that was three stories high. There was a fountain in the center, and far away were 5 or so meter tall walls with a ginger metal gate on the center.
Zachariel noticed a few people there but Von called out to him.
“Boy, you’re about to enter the private building of the Summer Household. What you were just now was something where the guests and visitors would accommodate themselves.”
There were two entrances inside the l-shaped building. Both were found on the center of either side, and Von went to the entrance in front of them.
Von grabbed the huge wooden door’s handle and pulled it.
Zachariel was then greeted by the sight of a marvelous room filled with luxurious decorations both on the floor and in the ceiling. The smooth cemented floor and walls put a different vibe to Zachariel.
Majestic. Power. Wealth.
Paintings spanned from here and there, bombarding Zachariel with artistic works all around.
There was a stout man dressed in a white shirt and black pants, with a younger and taller figure behind him.
Both of them looked very similar, with narrow eyes in their circular faces, and a look of contempt when they stared at Von and the group.
“Von, still trying to prolong Madame’s life?”, the stout man mocked.
“Marfily, I don’t have time for you.”, Von approached him and forcefully shoved him out of the way.
The stout man named Marfily snorted.
“You won’t be able to stop what’s coming, Von. Once I’ve had my fill in this house, I’ll make sure you’ll die.”, he threatened.
Von stopped walking and turned back. His eyes suddenly sent a ‘pulse’ towards the two people.
Marfily’s eyes widened and he passed out.
“Fa-father! No! How dare you harm my father, you lowly piece of-!”, a foot kicked him out of nowhere and a spit was also sent at him.
It was Joey that had pissed look on his face.
“Milgy, do you know who’s in charge of this household right now?”
He said while stepping on Milgy’s face.
“If you’re smart, you better get the f*** out of my face now!”
Joey extended his hands and conjured bluish flames.
Milgy wetted himself, afraid to move a muscle when he recognized the blue flames in Joey’s hands.
`Even if I’m a platinum-level mage now, I won’t be able to fight against shittard like him!`
Milgy panicked and pushed Joey’s feet out of the way. He then dragged his unconscious father out of the hallway towards one of the rooms.
“Sorry about that, boy.”, Von sighed.
The family’s current internal structure was chaotic and for Zachariel to witness that was an embarrassment on Von’s part.
Zachariel remained indifferent to the incident.
“It’s okay, senior. Let’s continue.”, he replied.
After climbing the staircase and walking for a minute, they’ve finally arrived in a room that had a formation barrier as an entrance.
There were several blinking lines and shapes that comprised the barrier, and one could not see what was on the other side.
“Is this your way of preventing the spread of corruption, senior?”, Zachariel asked.
He was interested in how it worked, and how it could be conjured and activated.
“Yes, though don’t underestimate what’s on the other side of that barrier.”
Zachariel had a hunch that the corruption must’ve become worse, thus, “Are you referring to the dark mist, senior?”
“Yes. The only way we could determine Madame Lena’s health status is through those columns of green vertical lines on the left and right edges of the formation barrier.”, Von pointed.
Zachariel followed and saw that the vertical lines were zigzagging from time to time.
`Hmm, are those Madame Lena’s heart pulse? Must be. Something inside me reminds me of some weird medical stuff and terms. Damn it, focus, Zachariel!`
Joey felt that something was wrong.
“Wait, uncle. Are you sending this young boy to his death? What if the whatever-thing that corrupted auntie also latches on him as well? Wouldn’t we have to take responsibility if he dies or so?”
Von shook his head.
“Joey, do you see that dark stuff floating just right outside the barrier?”
Joey did as he said and saw that there were actually a group of creepy dark fogs that were stuck in the barrier. Even in the distance, the aura of death haunted Joey’s mind.
He gulped in fear and stepped back right away.
`See, even you’re scared seeing it from a distance. What more if you approach it closer?`, Von remarked.
He had also experienced being ‘haunted’ by those dark mists as well and he didn’t want to experience it again.
`To think that those Archbishops could create such a strong curse that also wields a cursed being with unimaginable power. If that ‘thing’ comes to life with a master, the entire Imperium might fall in the blink of an eye.`
He was referring to Prince Kane rampaging in the Imperium, and the members of the Fleeting Shadow.
`I don’t know why the Higher Elders hid this from us, but this is a serious matter. If the corruption spreads from here, things are gonna go worse. My other half is still doing a mission in the Elden Continent. It might take a few days before I could return to the Central Continent and report it to the higher-ups.`
The Higher Elders had the off-chance of not giving a s*** about small things like this. If anything else, most of them wanted the condition to go as bad as possible before sending help and act like they were heroes.
This was what Von hated so much against them as well.
Amidst his deep thoughts, Zachariel stepped forward and extended his hands towards the dark mist.
Joey’s heart raced when he saw Zachariel stupidly put himself in danger, “He-hey, young boy! Don’t be silly and step back! Ah, s***, uncle!”
Von stood there, gulping in fear and anticipation.
When Zachariel got close to the barrier, the group of dark mist moved, shaping itself like an arm, and grabbed Zachariel, pulling him inside.
The two were dumbfounded and took a second to realize what just happened.
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