(Please note, not edited/checked/PR-ed. You may run into a questionable grammar or two. If you spot them, please let me know in the comments. Thanks!!)
Lizbeth stared at the hole on the floor, and the demolished wall, with an awkward expression. Even though she heard the explanation, all she could focus on was that rat.
She wanted to find it quickly before it got into the pantry, the bedroom, the nursery…. Just thinking about the little gray critter scurrying about in her home, made her skin crawl.
“Are you certain the rodent went underground?”
She asked Damien once more, as she held her still-sheathed short sword tightly.
Damien was feeling rather wary of her swimming eyes. He just gave up trying to fathom why girls were weak against certain types of varmint and insects. Even some female Adventurers were not exempt from this phenomenon. A strange thing for sure, to a person who could step on a roach without batting an eyelid.
“Yes, love. I’m quite sure it’s in the basement, somewhere, probably. Rather, that’s not the important part, is it? If you’re all set, let’s go down and see what’s in there.”
Lizbeth gave him a scornful glare, and clutched the sword even tighter to her bosom. Seeing this, he couldn’t help but sigh.
“Delilah, look after Kaleena and Kain. As we discussed, if something happens, immediately escape and alert Rolf. Let’s go, Rosy, Liz.”
Damien dropped a lit torch down the hole, and heard the sound of it hitting the ground below. Peering over the edge, he saw the hard ground, illuminated by the flames of the torch.
Whew, I don’t have to climb down too much, eh.
Damien thanked the heavens for the consideration shown – it was going to be an exercise in dexterity trying to climb up and down with only a single arm so shorter the distance, the better it was for him.
Rosy, with her above-average eyesight in the dark, knelt and looked at the basement, and said, “There doesn’t seem to be anything too suspicious down there. Lemme go first, and I’ll call you down.”
Taking another lit torch, Rosy jumped down nimbly while minding the hems of her dress. She looked around the darkness while shining the light but didn’t move too much from her landing spot.
The space wasn’t too big, only slightly bigger than that of the office above. The air was very stale, thick with layer upon layer of choking dust. She crinkled her nose, thinking it would be such a bother if she was asked to clean this place. If so, then she made up half a mind to pester her bosses for a raise.
“It’s safe down here, except for lots of dust,” Rosy shouted out. “Bring some masks with you.”
Damien descended first. He could jump down, like how Rosy did it, but decided not too, after hearing about the dust. A hard landing would no doubt kick some of it up, and Lizbeth might shout at him for his thoughtless action if any of that entered the living spaces above.
Lizbeth followed right after. All three of them covered the lower half of their faces with improvised face masks and looked around the seemingly empty space curiously.
They lit another torch after deciding there weren’t enough illumination provided, which proved to be a wise choice.
Because the third light source revealed a very faint line drawn on the hard ground.
Lizbeth was the first to notice it, as she felt a hint of Aeterna emanating from the line. She cautioned the others of its existence, and motioned Damien to throw a torch forward as far as he could.
As soon as the thrown torch flew past the line, weak green lights shot up from the ground, intercepting the object moving past it. The appearance of the light was in a circular diagram, with two layers of words written on its outer circumference. Within the circle’s interior, they saw a medium-sized metal object, itself surrounded by another circular diagram.
The thrown torch stopped midway, before it continued to fly away with no loss of its momentum. The light remained for a while, flickering and swaying like reeds in the wind, until they subsided and quietly disappeared.
“It’s an Invocation array,” said Lizbeth after studying the circle while it was still shining the green light. “It seems to be a barrier type. If a living creature tried to cross it, the barrier might have repulsed it.”
“Looks like it’s guarding that metal thing in the middle. What do you think? Should we attempt at breaking the array? Or leave it as it is?”
Damien asked his companions for their opinions. Personally, he wanted to retrieve the mysterious object but if Lizbeth or Rosy raised objections then he’d consider them too.
“I’m happy either way, my lord,” Rosy said with a shrug.
Lizbeth thought for a while, and said, “I don’t see the rodent in here, love. Are you sure it ran into this basement?”
Not that again, Damien sighed. “Maybe we scared it off. Maybe it went somewhere else, babe. Naught we can do about it now. Instead, the array in front of us. What should we do about it? I’m mighty uncomfortable with that unknown object under the same roof as our children.”
Lizbeth hurriedly looked around, the rest of the basement, the walls, and the ceiling. She even noticed a thick spot of bloodstain on the wooden beams above her, presumably from the slain assassin. The sign of the blood dripping down to the ground was visible, but she didn’t mind that. She was too busy thinking of ways to break the array safely, after her husband telling her, without saying it in so many words, to get a hold of herself.
The dripping blood did activate the barrier the night that man slit his own throat; the resulting cast-off of Aeterna as the array came to life, and its seepage through a small gap in the floorboards, was what Kain had noticed that night.
“….Don’t we own an Invocation Tool that can temporarily disrupt a barrier type array? I’m sure it still have some Aeterna left in it.” Lizbeth spoke after searching through her memories for a bit.
“Right, we do. But it’s been more than five years.” Damien replied. “But I guess it’s worth a try. Hold on, I’ll go find it.”
Damien climbed out of the hole with little trouble, and rummaged through the weapons chest until he found a black wand-like object with a small red gemstone embedded on the tip. He frowned, as he noticed how dull the luster of the gem was, signaling it had very little charge left.
Returning with the Tool, Damien jumped down the hole and cause a bit of heavy dust storm.
“There aren’t too much Aeterna left. Best to use it right away…. Uh, I made a mistake. I’m terribly sorry.”
Damien apologized immediately upon realizing his action caused his wife and Rosy to be covered lightly in dust. Their unhappy, murderous gazes sent a chill down his spine. He bowed like a prostrating Japanese salaryman, casting away his pride as a man and a noble, fully knowing that his life was on the line here.
After pacifying the two irate women, it was decided that Rosy, the quickest of the trio, would enter the array and retrieve the metal object. He didn’t like it, but Rosy said she was fine with it, saying Damien’s and Lizbeth’s lives were more of importance than hers.
“Have faith in her abilities, love.” Lizbeth said, when Damien tried to say something to object to Rosy’s line of thinking.
The problem was the secondary array near the goal. They had no idea what that was for. The safe bet was that particular array was laid down as a backup in case the outer one failed for some reason. If so, it was not unreasonable to think that the inner array could be more deadly.
The Tool was designed to disrupt the array’s functions when touching the outer line of the circle, by blocking the flow of Aeterna mandated by the inscriptions written within. The stronger the array, the more Aeterna required to disrupt it, and judging by the strength of the barrier, Lizbeth judged it to be exceptional.
The thickness of the dust layer suggested no one had entered this basement in, perhaps, decades. To lay down an array that possessed such a frightening amount of longevity was not unheard of, but only a handful of Invokers were capable of such feat in the current times.
To underestimate the barrier as something simple, was being foolish. Lizbeth had to be careful. Even though she trusted Rosy’s ability, if there were a chance of misfortune, however minute, she’d advise the girl not to jump in. She had a half a mind to call on the resident Invoker who was living in the village currently, a man named Master Ahres, to share his expertise.
He was a researcher from SOIR who for some reason decided to stay in Riverfield. He mostly kept to himself so Lizbeth didn’t pay him no mind, but if he was from the Society, then he might be able to figure something out. The question was whether he could be trusted enough to let him know of whatever secret this room held.
“I’ll cast a simple Invocation to see how it reacts to the stimulus. Everyone, take a step back, please.”
Lizbeth’s highest Affinity was with Light Element, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t call on the others. Every Invoker, regardless of their Affinities, could cast spells of other Elements, but took penalties doing so, some severe, some not so much, such as higher-than-usual Aeterna consumption, low spell effects, or sometimes outright failure to launch a spell.
Of course, there were types of Elements that couldn’t be controlled without the appropriate Affinity, such as that of Light, making those who can, highly sought after.
Because of the restrictions Invokers faced, unless being born with innate talents of having Affinity with multiple Elements, most of them concentrated on only a single Element they were capable of wielding.
With Lizbeth, she was able to wield Fire, Water, and Wind to a varying degree of success. Besides Light, she could wield Wind pretty well, and the other two, with some difficulty.
She chose to invoke a weak Fire type Invocation, a small ball of flame hot enough to boil a pot of water. She placed her palms together and whispered a relatively simple chant, and gathered Aeterna. A small bead of sweat formed on her forehead as a flame as big as a drinking cup appeared hovering above her hands. She then sent this little flame forward, towards the barrier.
It floated like a will-o’-the-wisp and slowly got near the array’s area of influence. Upon coming in contact with it, the barrier flared up brightly and extinguished the flame.
“So Invocations won’t work,” Lizbeth nodded. She expected it to happen so she wasn’t surprised at all. After pondering for a bit, she spoke to her companions. “Alright, so it seems we have a problem of getting past the two arrays before us. We can use what little charge is left in the disruption tool for the outer layer, but what should we do about the inner one?”
Rosy was the first to chime in with her opinion. “Maybe I can get inside the array, remove the tool, and then place it on the second one? If I move quickly, I think it can be done.”
Damien shook his head. “No, that won’t do. Besides not knowing how long the tool can hold up, trying to disrupt two different arrays will only exhaust the charge faster. All I can come up with for now, is to find someone to break the array for us.”
“That is assuming we can find someone trustworthy,” said Lizbeth. “We do not know what is being kept here, for what purpose, nor from whom, by whom. We can’t carelessly expose this finding to anyone, not even to the upper echelons of the Adventurer Association.”
“I know that. The alternative method is to get another disruption tool. Although it’ll cost a pretty penny. The shop in Lafayette should deal in those.” Damien replied.
Frankly, he’d rather not go down this route; an Invocation Tool always costed a fair bit of change to buy one, but the real hassle was in getting a permit from a local governing council to acquire one. An array disruption tool would definitely require him to go through a stringent process. That meant filling in paperwork. Meaning, he had to write with his left hand.
He wasn’t looking forward to that.
He could call for an assistance from the lord of Lafayette, but he was already knee-deep in that man’s favors so it didn’t feel right to ask for another one. Especially seeing that, as it stood, it all smelled a little bit fishy.
As he was silently despairing, his eyes caught the torch lying on its side, on the far side of the array. It was the one he threw earlier on. That suddenly gave him an idea.
“Hang on, how about this way? See that torch over there? That went past the array no problem, right? What does that mean? I think, the array might let items that are not alive, just like that torch, go through. If true, then we can exploit that.”
“How?” Rosy asked, while her whiskers danced up and down, a telltale sign of her being curious.
“I’ll throw something sturdy at the metal thing, and try to knock it outside the second array. Then Rosy can retrieve the object as planned. Of course, I may need your help, love.”
“…You want me to use a Wind type Invocation to increase the speed of the thrown item, right? I think…. I think it’s worth a try.”
“Alright. We need to find something to throw then. Something that won’t break against the object in the middle.”
The sacrificial item was chosen quickly enough – it came down to either the leather armor Damien wore when he went to the Sacred Acre, or the short sword Lizbeth was holding onto. The armor was beyond repair now, after the battle it had seen. And seeing Lizbeth’s reluctance to part ways with the sharp blade, the choice was an obvious one.
Taking the ruined armor from the weapons chest above, Damien descended back down but he was careful not to raise another dust storm. Once was enough, really, to learn his lesson.
The plan they hashed out was thus: Damien would throw the armor after binding it tightly with a rope, so it wouldn’t flail about. Lizbeth would increase its speed by forcing it forward with a gust of wind. She had to cast the spell at the exact moment otherwise the barrier would block the attempt. Easy as pie.
Only remaining doubt was whether Damien could throw as accurately as he wanted to, with his left arm. But he had been practicing with it and felt reasonably confident about his chances.
“All ready?” Damien looked at his wife, and then at Rosy, while taking a slightly low stance. He cocked his arm as far as he could and took a deep breath.
With a short shout, he threw the armor, as hard as he could. He was kind of hoping to knock the metal object as far as possible, preferably past the outer barrier as well.
Matching the timing of her husband, she cast a weirdly-named spell called Wind Slap. It was a rudimentary spell that required a very little prep time, but had the kind of effect they were looking for – the spell molded air into a shape of a nearly-invisible hand, and it smacked the thrown armor from behind, noticeably increasing its speed.
The armor splendidly struck the target, and it tumbled backwards from its resting spot. It was pushed back so far, not only it moved past the inner array, but it only came to a stop near the outer barrier’s edge on the opposite side. A person could retrieve it by simply reaching in now.
This was a good news. There was enough room in the basement to go around the perimeter of the outer array without tripping it.
Rosy quickly went there, and placed the disruption tool on the array’s outer line. The barrier was immediately erected, but the tool did its job and a slender portion of the green-ish light was diverted. There were minute sparks around the gem at the tip of the tool as it glowed weakly.
Seizing this chance, Rosy reached in and pulled the metal object out with ease.
Soon after, the gem lost all its luminescence, and shattered with a ‘pah’. It had done its job.
The metal object turned out to be a box. Moreover, a locked one at that.
Everyone looking at it were at loss for words. After wiping it down, the metallic luster was stronger than ever, and also, it became quite clear it was spotless, not even a speck of rust was on it. On top of that, it was hardier than any metal Damien had ever seen.
Whatever was inside, it must have been rather important. At the moment though, they had no way of knowing what.
The hole, or the trapdoor, was closed shut after they climbed out. No need to keep it open, Damien figured. He’d get some laborers to fill it up with soil after the end of the Monsoon. Same thing with the demolished wall; now that he took a look at it, he sure made a mess inside the office.
The metal box was resting on top of the desk, and all were staring at it, unsure of what to do next.
“We could try and pry it open,” Rosy said while brushing dust off her fur.
“Well, it doesn’t seem to contain any type of curses on it so that’s a relief. Hiring a locksmith from Lafayette seems like the only option available.”
Sitting on the chair, Lizbeth said as she breastfed Kain.
Damien was also convinced of this. He saw no other way, short of him learning a new skill of lockpicking. Since it was out of those suspicious barrier Invocation arrays, it’d be easier to explain away the circumstances surrounding this box to a layman. In other words, easier to lie.
Kaleena was sitting on Delilah’s laps, playing with her doll, having shown briefest of interest at the box before losing it.
“Perhaps we should consult the village elders first, before deciding what to do with this box,” the dwarven maid offered her opinion.
It was easy to deduce just how long it had been since the box was placed in the basement. Decades, if not centuries.
The elders of the village might have some knowledge on the item’s origins and its purposes. But whether they could be reliable or not was another matter. No guarantee there, of them keeping the matter to themselves after all.
Two of the elders were trustworthy, but the rest…. were kind of like a leaky pot. Pour in water, and it leaks like there’s no tomorrow. Not ideal, if a secret needed to be kept amongst a few people. It was just that, a sleepy village like Riverfield weren’t blessed with any to be kept to begin with, so it was fine until now.
Having said that, since Damien hadn’t heard anything like a basement in his home from the elders, he had to wonder if it was worth the risk asking them in the first place; they might not know themselves. The one person who was sure to know, was Lady Valette, the previous lord of the village.
However her current whereabouts were unknown. Damien didn’t want to believe that her disappearance had anything to do with this box. But he was also convinced of it being the assassin’s true goal. It would do no good to let the outside world know he had discovered it. Who knows what kind of trouble that might attract.
Lizbeth too was weighing up the options. She didn’t like any of them, but seeing that there weren’t much choice here, she was leaning towards the option of relying on either of the familial connections. Namely, that of her father, or of Damien’s. Whether he’d agree to that, now that was something else entirely.
Rosy, either way, didn’t really care. She’d go as the events unfolded.
As for Kain, he was looking at the box with quiet intensity. Because, he was feeling rather confused at the small marking on the corner of the box. His family members saw it but none of them knew what it was, and since it didn’t do anything, they paid it no mind.
The marking actually was of a famous brand back in his previous world, Silver’s. And they happened to be an advanced equipment manufacturer, specializing in bleeding edge technology. Last he heard, they were working on weapons. Weapons straight out of the realms of science fiction. Weapons that a certain fictional Mr. Stark would’ve been more than happy to give his approval to.
What the hell?
Kain was confused, big time. There was a possibility of him making a mistake with his identification but, since in his previous job at the IT company as a salesman, involved pitching a product at the weapons manufacturer in question so he was 100% certain of being right.
The whole metal box – or a case – was giving him the chills. Something was off about it. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it however.
There was something else worrying him too. If it was indeed from Silver’s, the weapon maker, than how bad were the odds that a futuristic weapon was tucked underneath the lock?
What could it be? A gun? Maybe some sort of a computer? A transceiver? Or a piece of chewing gum? Could even be a set of Cuban cigars.
Reflexively, Kain reached out when Lizbeth leaned forward while getting up. His fat baby fingers landed on the marking by chance, and there was a clicking sound of something being unlocked.
All present in the office except the culprit froze in place. Well, Rosy didn’t either, but she was always like that so that was fine.
“What was that?” Damien asked first.
Since nothing happened, he got closer to the box, and touched it. Then he realized it was now open.
Wordlessly, he lifted the lid up. Contrary to his thoughts, the metal was light, as if it didn’t weigh anything. That was strange, because when he carried the box, it was on the weighty side.
Inside was lined with burgundy suede. A thing was wrapped in the same material, placed in the middle. Having never seen such a fabric before, the female folks’ eyes nearly jumped out at the soft, luxurious feel of it.
Not minding them, Damien picked up the wrapped object, noting the weight he felt was actually from it. Uncharacteristically, he was somewhat nervous, a sense of apprehension tickling him on the backside. He couldn’t really tell what he was holding in his hand by the shape, nor by the bulk.
Laying it down on the desk’s surface, he carefully unwrapped it.
It was half a piece of dark, lacquered wooden board, that was roughly split in the middle. It was quite thick too, and on the upper surface various shapes were carved onto it. The overall shape of the board itself was unusual as well.
A normal board might be in a rectangular shape. Maybe a square, even. But the one in his hand, disregarding the fact that half of it was missing, had a hallmark of being an octagon.
The craftsmanship of the board was incredible. The tapered edges were super smooth, the vanish applied consistent and spotless. To think, it was kept in the metal box for who knows how long without showing a hint of decay.
The carvings on the surface was equally mysterious. At some glances, it looked like a bunch of lines and meaningless squiggles that seemed haphazardly thrown together. But Damien could sense that each of the lines possessed strength of something indescribable, something intangible.
Something he’s never, ever felt before. It was quite profound, really.
Not only him, but Rosy and Lizbeth felt it too, although to a lesser degree, as they weren’t looking at it directly as he did. Delilah, being a person with no combat experience, didn’t sense anything.
However, Kaleena also felt some sort of strange sensation and stopped playing with the doll, raising her head. Her curious eyes focused on the mysterious wooden board, and asked.
“Mommy, daddy, what’s that?”
Naturally, they had no answers. They were certain of it being a priceless treasure, but what kind was it? Since it was made of wood, it couldn’t be treated as a gem. It wasn’t a weapon, at least Damien didn’t think so, and Lizbeth wasn’t sure if it was related to the system of wielding Aeterna, Invocation.
Out of all present in the office, only Kain knew what it was, because he has seen something really, really similar to it before.
In a Hong Kong kung-fu action movie, no less. Because it was a bagua inscription board he was looking at, with Chinese characters written on the peripherals.
If this was a cartoon, Kain’s jaw would’ve hit the floor. Nevertheless, he remained speechless for what felt like an eternity. The appearance of something completely unexpected took him by surprise and he had no retort, no smart comebacks to fall back to.
What the hell is that thing doing here??? Whaaaaat? Hold on, hold on a damn second. Wait, calm down, me.
Let’s think about this logically. Right, it is conceited to think I’m the only one in the history of the universe to have reincarnated into other worlds. No, it would be strange if that’s the case.
But, reincarnating and being able to bring a thing like that here is two different thing. No wait. A reincarnated individual who retained his past memory, like me, could have carved that thing. That’s a possibility.
But no. That Silver’s case – that’s something you can’t copy, right? And the suede too, those are most likely not something the technology of this world can replicate.
Even with magic… no I mean Invocation, will it be possible?
….Could it be, that people got transferred here, while some got reincarnated? Maybe that’s the answer. In the case of former, I can see those who ended up in this world having one or two stuff on them. That makes sense, right?
Wow, if my deduction turns out to be a bulls-eye, then just how many people from my previous world is living in this one??
Kain grimaced deeply. A massive headache began to develop on the side of his head, and he wanted to massage it but that would be too weird a gesture to do it in front of the others here so he refrained.
Still, Lizbeth noticed her son frowning, and sweating heavily.
“Dear, you should put away that object. I think it’s affecting the children.”
Damien nodded, and wrapped the board back under the cloth. He realized how clammy his own hand was. As matter of fact, he was covered in sweat too, as if he’d been standing under a hot sun for too long.
Kaleena, slightly irritated that her question was ignored, raised her voice again.
“Mommy? Daddy? What are you going to do with that?”
Damien looked at his wife. She returned his gaze, silently debating on what to do themselves.
“Uhm, yes, what should we do? We should keep it safe, elsewhere. Perhaps it’s better to have it stored at the vault in Lafayette’s Association headquarters?”
Lizbeth nodded her agreement. “That sounds like a splendid idea. But we should also try to identify what it is beforehand.”
“True. Hire an appraiser, then?”
The couple nodded at the same time, totally in sync with each other’s rhythm.
“As soon as the rain abates a little, I’ll head to Lafayette right away,” said Damien as he returned the board within the cavity of the metal box.
Having said all that, he didn’t feel that confident of achieving any tangible results, at least not overnight. His life experiences so far told him this wooden board wasn’t something so simple to let any old appraiser find out its secrets.
Whatever it was, he just knew in his gut, there was a storm brewing in the distance. Now, he had no doubt about what his new task was: making sure the secret doesn’t leak out to his enemies, whoever they were, wherever they were, whatever they were scheming.
That was going to be a difficult, but very, very important mission.