“Mendor”, Zax called out.
He waited for almost thirty minutes, after leaving the registration office, for all the mercenaries and villagers to enter the city.
“Mm? What’s wrong?” Mendor saw the bothered look on Zax’s face.
“Where are we going?” Zax asked in turn.
“Well, I need to lead the villagers to the law enforcement station to hand over the bandits and my men need to carry the alligator’s parts to the Business Centre of the city”.
“I’ll go with you and explain on the way”.
Time in the risky and sometimes unrewarding profession as a mercenary, more than anything else, enhanced Mendor’s attentiveness. He could tell that Zax probably trod upon a sensitive issue, while keeping a straight countenance and not push for the matter in an indiscreet area.
“Danus, take the man to the Workshop. If you can get a decent sum for the parts, then sell them all. Otherwise, wait for me to arrive. Also, don’t mention the Pure Core”.
“Not a problem”. Danus complied.
“Everyone, we are going. You two, check out the list of the deceased and find if they had families, spouses living in the city and where exactly they are located”.
The streets were packed with people and steam engine machineries. The common attire of Glorious Ground’s denizens was all types of suits for men and dresses for ladies.
The style was a lot different than in Vergil’s Pasture and the air had a sense of pretentiousness, especially when people’s eyes landed on the small group of villagers and their wagon.
Other than the denizens, there were also many people like Zax and Mendor, cultivators who came from odd places and settled in Glorious Ground for an undetermined period of time and local cultivators who occupied themselves in all kinds of manual labor…
“This is the first that I hear about it. I know some people who got their foreigner identification in the registration office and they all finished the procedure there”. Mendor answered Zax’s doubts as best as he could. He, too, was stumped by why Zax has to go to the mayor’s office building.
“Forget it, then. We’ll see when we get there. About your suggestion, I won’t join any group, but I would like to register as a mercenary if indeed it will provide me useful privileges”.
After they parted with Danus and the rest, before Zax told Mendor about his ordeal in the registration office, Mendor ended up being first to speak and raise the idea of Zax joining the Mercenary Association.
For a capable cultivator, joining the Mercenary Association of the Western Continent is much better than being a loner without a worthy form of status. Also, the Mercenary Association is the only group that does not restrict its members, unless, of course, they accept some high end assignments or other responsibilities.
“Thief!” A womanly voice from up the street resounded.
The surrounding people and humanoid beasts, only few who could be seen walking about in the steampunk vicinity of Glorious Ground, averted their gazes, including Zax and Mendor, to the direction of the shout.
A boy, around twelve years of age and wearing ragged clothes, was running, or rather escaping. In his hands he held a purse and embraced it close to his chest.
The one he stole the purse from was an old lady in exuberant attire of a dark blue dress and what definitely was a wig.
A young man in gray aide’s uniform, who accompanied the lady, gave chase after the boy. The man was not a cultivator, but still was faster than the boy, yet the boy knew the streets better and maneuvered around buildings’ corners and allies until finally vanishing from the man’s sight.
“Eh?” Zax let out in surprise a short while after the commotion began. ‘How did I not see it?! Have I gone blind?!’ He scolded himself while being in complete shock. ‘The boy, the man, the lady and almost everyone around… none possesses an Earth’s Core!’
It dawned on him for the first time by witnessing the meager running speed of the boy and man and most of all, lack of any mist fluctuation. They were basically regular human beings.
Actually, it was not really Zax’s fault for not noticing before. Since arriving to Ercas Mir he mostly used his Soul Sense to detect the cultivation of Core Breakers and up, levels at which the Earth’s Core has already been completely turned into mist energy. Furthermore, if it happened that there was at the time someone at a lower level, without an Earth’s Core and at the range of his Soul Sense, he probably overlooked him or her due to them being unassuming and him too strong to be concerned by such levels anymore.
‘It truly is different than New Earth… it seems that in Ercas Mir, although cultivators are, supposedly, more abundant in quantity and level of strength, the starting point of Martial cultivation is not as easy as being granted Earth’s Cores and initial guidance from the regime at a young age’.
Zax refrained from using the word “quality”, otherwise, why the five powers would care about the natives of New Earth and also, from the message left by to Black Core’s previous owner, he knew better.
‘It’s also possible that Earth’s Cores are less common in Ercas Mir. But in turn, they do have here the amazing Pure Cores…’
“Come on, keep going!” Mendor berated the villagers. Turning to Zax, he spoke in a more moderate tone. “Don’t pay attention to them. I’m not sure how it is where you came from, but petty crime is quite common in the Blessed Army’s cities. Then again, that is as far as the crime rate in the cities goes. If that kid was a few years older and caught, he would have become really miserable… The Blessed Army directs the mayors of its cities to run their offices with zero tolerance toward crime”.
By the time Mendor finished speaking, an officer, with the same armored uniforms as the four officers in the registration office, who patrolled a not far away street and heard the old lady’s scream, has arrived and started taking statements.
The old lady was furious at the young thief and too agitated to explain the situation to the officer. Instead, her aide gave a description of the boy while fanning the old lady.
“Bring them out. Keep watch that they don’t try to run”. Mendor told the villagers after showing them where they can park the wagon.
The arrived in front of a squared building with a line of squared windows at every one of its eight floors and a squared main entrance that had its two sides doors open to the coming and going. The building was the law enforcement bureau of Glorious Ground.
Parked beside the bureau were some sophisticated looking police vehicles, some with wheels, some were hovering above ground.
There were more people communing in and out of the bureau, working, wearing common official attire than the expected officer’s uniforms.
“Wait here for a few minutes. Zax, I’ll finish here quickly and we will head to the mayor’s office building”. Mendor said and entered the bureau.
Roughly ten minutes later, Mendor came out, accompanied by a unit of eight officers and holding a leather suitcase.
The officers said nothing as they proceeded to take the bandits from the slightly frightened villagers – they were aggressive in their approach and two were at the Mist Lord levels, showing off their strength to intimidate the bandits.
Soon, most of the bandits were all divided and transferred to four bus’s size police vehicles. Only five remained in custody, taken to the cells in the bureau.
“They don’t keep criminals in the city…?” A villager wondered outloud, a bit worrisome that places other than the great city will not manage to hold up those criminals who terrorized the village.
“This is the law enforcement bureau. They don’t hold here criminals for long periods of time, especially not in large numbers. Since all the bandits are from the same group, the five that remained should have been taken to interrogation and will later join the rest, who are currently being transported to the three police stations of the city, under the law enforcement bureau. After all the bandits will be processed, they will then be dealt with accordingly, most likely taken to one of the Blessed Army’s prisons”.
“Oh…” The villager said in relief.
“Here, make sure not to lose it”. Mendor handed the leather suitcase to the villager. “In there is your village’s share of the bounties. The head of the village will have to exchange the bonds in one of the city’s banks”.
“Yes, thank you”. Recalling the robbery from earlier, the villager said and held the suitcase tightly with both his hands.
Mendor and Zax parted ways with the villagers, continuing to the mayor’s office building. It was not a short walk, nor long, around twenty five minutes from the law enforcement bureau.
“Here it is”. Mendor said at the front of their destination.
The mayor’s office building was one of the few and the tallest skyscraper in Glorious Ground.
The ground floor was both an enormous lounge and the reception. There were people sitting on couches in arranged places, talking, waiting or just plainly reading today’s newspaper. There was also a bar and a service line for fast food.
Behind the reception’s desk, were two women and a man, as well as three of those odd typewriter\ computer machines that the officers in the registration office have.
The man, seemingly at his early twenties and giving the impression of being new at the job, lifted his gaze from the thin screen when Zax stopped in front of him. At first glance his eyes reflected discontent with Zax, due to his rural getup.
He made an effort to maintain professionalism. “Good afternoon, sir, how may I help you?” He asked Zax while hinting his coworker to step in at the chance that he will conduct himself improperly.
“I was told to come here from the registration office to finalize my foreigner identification”. Zax gave the receptionist the article he received in the registration office.
There was not something unique writing in it. He read it on the way and it was just filled with the personal information he submitted, including his cultivation level, and standard wording for this type of article.
“That’s…” The male receptionist had a puzzled expression.
“Please, sir, it may take a bit of time. Please sit wherever you would like and someone will notify you when your foreigner identification will be ready”. It was not the first time the other receptionist encountered this atypical situation and, as such, gracefully knew what to say and how to proceed.
Zax and Mendor left to find a place to sit. As they turned their backs, the female receptionist, who took over the situation, raised the handset of one of the phones on the reception desk to her ear and dialed.
“It could not be that they sent me all the way here just to sit and wait, don’t you think, Mendor?”
“This… If I was a Ranker mercenary, I might have known. But, if you would agree to accept an educated guess, I, too, assume they did not send you here for your identification, but cultivation”.
“Yeah… I was thinking that this is probably the reason, too”. Zax corresponded as he contemplated in his head. ‘Though, it’s not impossible that my identity has something to do with it. Maybe it’s those marks left in me…?’
“Mr. Walaow”, a tall woman in a black dress that highlighted the curves of her fine figure and a long fiery red hair approached Zax’s and Mendor’s sitting area.
The two stood up.
“You are?” Zax asked.
Before he could get an answer, Mendor interrupted. “Zax, I will wait for you at the bar”. He gave a solemn greeting to the woman, as if he knew her.
“Mr. Walaow, my name is Xinia Sensensar. I’m the Sensensar family’s hostess”. She was an exquisite beauty with a bright, natural smile that lightened the air around her. “Mr. Walaow, I know it is sudden and confusing, but would you please join me. A reservation at the top restaurant in the mayor’s office building has been made prior to your arrival and I would hate to late it go to waste”.
“Xi… Ms. Sensensar”, Zax was used to referring people in their first name, however he retracted his words and rephrased himself to blend in this new environment.
“I will be frank with you, Mr. Walaow, this has nothing to do with your foreigner identification. Moreover, they will be approved whether you will accept my invitation or not”. Xinia stepped forward, closing the gap between her and Zax. “You look so young, Mr. Walaow. I’ve seen many experts who preserve their youthfulness with the help of special techniques or by having the luck of fast cultivation at an early age”.
There are only two means for cultivators to preserve a young appearance. First are cosmetic techniques, second is cultivating to a high level at a young age to slow down the process of aging.
“But that is not the case with you, isn’t it, Mr. Walaow? You really are as you look… An Advanced second level Core Master in his twenties, early, at that!”
Xinia was way past Zax’s personal space and it was not clear if she is trying to seduce or just play him. It would have been a lie to say that Zax did not feel uncomfortable. He wanted to take a step back, but his nature prevented him.
A quick shift in her approach and Xinia suddenly stood next to Zax, her hands grabbing his arm as if it was already decided that he will accompany her.
“Mr. Walaow, I promise you won’t be disappointed. No one who got invited by me ever was”.