Chapter 423: Troubled Times
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Julia Storms calmly walked out from the Council’s gate, a smile on her face. She moved over to the receptionist, and placed a hand on the identification crystal to verify her identity. “I have some information I’d like to report to the Council.” She told the receptionist, her eyes squinted close to accentuate her smile.

“Hmm?” The receptionist looked up, her brows furrowing. She was a young halfling, and was still fairly new to this job. “Miss… Storms, is it? What would you like to report?”

“The twenty-second floor of Fyor has been discovered.” She told the suddenly surprised halfling, not skipping a beat as she leaned forward against the desk. “It’s a lush land, and seems perfect for living in. I thought that the Council might be interested in this knowledge.”

The halfling blinked, surprised at how close Julia suddenly was, but quickly shook her head and cleared her throat. “I’m sorry, Miss Storms… Information on new floors isn’t as valuable as it used to be. If you’d like, I can go ask what reward you can receive for bringing this to us.”

“I would appreciate that.” Julia nodded, her eyes still closed. She watched as the halfling got up from the desk, moving to a door behind it to deliver this report. However, a few moments later, a communication crystal on Julia’s body began to shine, and she suddenly stood up straight.

“Ah!” She looked around, her face seeming panicked as she approached one of the guards. “I’m sorry, I just realized that I have to leave for a while. Can you tell the receptionist that it’s fine, and I’ll try to come back for the reward if I get time in the future?”

“Huh?” The guard, a human man with blue eyes, asked in surprise. “Uhm, sure… That shouldn’t be a problem.” While it was not uncommon for things to come up like that, it was certainly not unheard of, and not exactly suspicious. If anything, Julia appeared to be losing out. The information about the discovery of the twenty-second floor would be easily verified, so it didn’t seem like a scam, and they had her name if she tried anything.

“Thank you!” She nodded her head rapidly, turning and making a dash towards the gate. However, there was one thing that none of the guards noticed, as Julia no longer possessed a shadow when she left. And as she reached the gate, her eyes opened, revealing them to be pitch black.

Sure enough, she did enter the gate on the first floor, or at least she appeared to. However, she never emerged from the second floor. Instead, the woman that was Julia was now being carried towards the Council offices, hidden inside the halfling’s shadow.

Did we really have to tell them about the twenty-second floor? She complained mentally to the other occupant of the shadow, Thelsa.

Unfortunately, it was necessary. If I were in the Council’s position, I would require anyone that regularly converses with outsiders to have training as one of Irena’s priests. The ability to discern lies is incredibly powerful, and it would be too hard to try to alter your memory to give us a different reason to be here.

As Thelsa explained that, they silently transferred away from the shadow of the receptionist. They did not choose to enter the shadow of a guard, or even another Council staff. Instead, they inhabited the shadow of the door leading into the Council Chamber.

There, they would be able to see and hear any official business conducted by the Council, without running the risk of being carried outside of the floor on the day war broke out. More importantly, being attached to a door meant that they could freely move to any shadow of anyone that used that door.

It did not take long for them to hear something related to their mission. On the second night of their stake-out, they overheard a conversation from within.

“Our informant has successfully secured the cooperation of Solace’s emperor. Are the troops prepared for deployment?” The voice sounded aged, yet high-pitched enough to likely belong to a halfling male.

The voice that responded was deeper, more youthful. The race wasn’t exactly clear, but it definitely belonged to a man. “They are. Everyone has been briefed, and the plan is in place. We’ve decided to send them under the guise of relief workers, building new homes for the elves that lost theirs to the war. Just in case, this is what they themselves were told about their mission. They will receive their true orders on-site.”

See? Thelsa asked towards Julia with a mental smirk. Even the Council is wary of Irena’s priests.

Is it really that bad? Julia asked in genuine surprise. She disliked lying in general, so she had never really come across a problem where she was blocked by a priest.

It is. Unfortunately, it’s rather easy to acquire the services of one of Irena’s priests, and you have to be prepared to navigate a verbal maze to mislead them. Look at these guys… I’d bet that the soldiers all have secret letters that they were ordered not to open until they had arrived in Solace.

Doing it this way poses a risk of the orders getting out if a soldier is killed, but the only way for them to really be killed in the colony is if they purposely make trouble. Given their previous orders of acting as relief workers, they will do their best to behave until they arrive at their destination.

Julia silently listened to Thelsa’s explanation, before letting out a mental sigh. I hate politics. How’s our third coming along, by the way?

I’ve got Maria’s identity crafted now. I’m running her through simulated training to build up some levels, but that won’t be enough to really get her combat ready. Once we’re done here, we’ll take her to… let’s say the thirteenth floor to begin proper combat training.

Maria, huh? Julia muttered. Anything I should be warned about?

She’s a bit of a show-off… Thelsa let out a sigh at that. She’s loud, and loves fighting. I tried to tone that down a bit, but those were the personality traits that latched onto her. I should have made her a ninja…

Oh, I was a ninja once, I think! Julia called out suddenly, seeming to remember a detail from her past life.

That’s right.

The days of Spica passed slowly, the Magic King of Solace sitting atop his throne. The emperor had told him to expect a foreign army to appear, and that he would hear word soon, but the Magic King felt unsure of this plan.

There were simply too many things wrong with what was happening, and he found it hard to believe that the emperor did not see them as well. To seek aid from a foreign power during a war was one thing, they had contracted tribes before to help with various tasks. But this… they were seeking aid not only from such a powerful neutral party… but one that they logically should not align themselves with.

The age-old war between Solace and Demacry was sparked by Demacry’s willingness to destroy the resources of their world to advance their own technology. In this manner… would that not also make Earth’s alliance their enemy as well? The technology displayed in their colony was enough that it had even sparked a new wave of innovation within their ancient foes.

“If we can accept Earth, why not them?” The Magic King muttered to himself, unsure for the first time in so long why they fought this war in the first place. Yes, he understood that the difference was that Demacry took their resources from their world, while those of Earth took from other worlds. But in the end, was it not all still destroying nature? What made one planet’s environment any less special than another.

The emperor, however, refused to see things this way. To him, all that mattered was eliminating the threat that was Demacry. Their vast world was simply not big enough for two empires in his eyes.

As the Magic King sighed, thinking about this, he felt the mana shifting. Rising to his feet, he recognized the shift as a magic code left by the scouts. Earth’s… or rather, Fyor’s army had arrived.

He focused, measuring the shifts in the code to determine where they were coming from, before leaping into the sky and flying to the east. The elves who saw him were awed, as the Magic King rarely made public appearances. His feet were wrapped in brilliant flames as he sailed through the air, eventually landing on the eastern gate of the city.

Outside the gate, he could see hundreds of individuals wearing leather armor. His brow furrowed as he realized that not a single one wore metal armor, before shaking his head. Among them were humans, and what he hoped were the smaller race known as halflings, rather than simply children.

This army of hundreds… five hundred after a rough count, was marching towards the castle without their weapons drawn. They seemed intent on making their presence known without appearing hostile, but the Magic King was simply disappointed.

Of the five hundred, they were all certainly high leveled warriors, likely many monks among them. But he could not feel the connection with Spica’s mana. Their bodies were strong, but the Magic King was unsure if merely five hundred strong bodies would stand up against Demacry’s weapons.

Still, he descended from the city’s wall, floating down to land before the human walking in the lead. He was once again disappointed when the human opened his mouth, his speech broken from an obvious lack of familiarity with the language.

“We… reinforcements. Fight with Solace.” The human said with much difficulty, as if each word were both rehearsed and not at the same time.

The Magic King simply shook his head, producing a quest scroll and tossing it towards the human. While the attempt was made for them to learn Solace’s tongue, he feared that allowing them to continue butchering it would simply cause misunderstandings in the future. Better to speak the universal language of quests.

“Your highness.” One of the kitsune maidservants approached Queen Bria, her hands in front of her stomach. “We have just received a report. Five hundred men have been sent from Fyor to Spica.”

Bria furrowed her brows, sitting in the throne that was still uncomfortable for her. “Do we know their objective?” She asked cautiously. Her reign on the throne had been far too short so far, and she was afraid of causing an incident. She was unaware that the people around her were being just as cautious to let her settle into her role without overwhelming her.

The maidservant nodded again, her auburn hair shaking behind her. “According to the report filed, they are relief workers, helping to rebuild houses for families who have lost theirs in the war against Demacry.”

Bria’s eyes went wide at that, leaning forward in the throne. There were monsters in Spica, so five hundred individuals wouldn’t look suspicious even if they were fully armored. “Fyor is sending aid so generously…? Send an envoy to Nexus. I need to know which kingdom is acting.”

“That won’t be necessary.” The maidservant replied softly. “That was in the report as well. Their orders came directly from the Council.”

Bria froze when she heard that. The fact that they seemed to be acting generously had made her immediately eliminate the Council as a possibility. She had only asked which kingdom they were working for because she wanted to foster positive relations with an altruistic ally. “Make sure that Desbar’s president, and Empress Margold are both aware of this information.”

Before the maidservant could leave, Bria added on to her order. “I want you to keep your movements confidential. Do not tell anyone but those I have mentioned. Use my name if you must, but you must speak to them directly, and only after you have confirmed their identity.”

She knew she was being paranoid with all of these precautions, but she considered the maidservant to be a friend of hers, and did not want to take any risks losing her. Moreso, there were risks of the Council’s operatives lurking within the courts of the various worlds, so it was hard to say who could be trusted aside from the rulers themselves.