“Why would Grujil make us go through all this trouble to take this thing?” Kindrav asked to no one in particular. There were two arms in the box, the left one was spotless from the shoulder to the black and long fingernails. While the right arm was missing half of the forearm with its hand and fingers not attached to the rest of the arm.
Notwithstanding the state of the arms, Kinrdav couldn't imagine why would anyone want them. Except for making them a part of some ghoulish collection, he could not imagine any other use for them.
“Whatever it is, is worth enough to keep it here.” Aleran reached for one of the fingers that was not attached to the hand. The first thing he could tell was how heavy the finger was. ‘Almost a kilogram, or maybe a little less?’ He calculated in his mind. That was way more than an average human. Yet, were it not for the runes, the color, and the black sharp nails, the arm would look like it belonged to a muscular human. ‘Or maybe some primate, that would make a little more sense.’
The other thing he noticed was that even the finger had small runes all over it. They had different shapes and no real pattern, as far as he could tell. He couldn't help but wonder how would a sample of this arm look like under the microscope. It wasn't his field of expertise but it still made his heart beat faster and his mind itch with curiosity.
His eyes glowed as many theories of what this arm could mean crossed his mind. But in the end, they were no more than speculation. He was out of his depth when it came to this world and the strange things in it.
“ Al, I know anything we take from here would be hard to keep and even harder to sell, but…” Kindrav said as he stopped paying attention to the arms and started to wander around the vault with his gaze.
Looking away from the finger for the first time in several minutes, Aleran also circled the room with his eyes, finally coming back to the red finger in his hand. “Well… I guess only an idiot would enter a place such as this and come out with his pockets empty. But we have to be careful, someone could find us thanks to the things we steal here. Let's choose wisely.”
Both of them knew the risks of taking something from the vault. One thing was taking the box with those mysterious arms. Although they were probably the most valuable item here, the ones who would handle all the pressure would be the Crimson Claw. On the other hand, anything they took for themselves would be their cross to bear.
Although it was dangerous, the truth was that they may have already been compromised. From the moment they had been knocked unconscious, there was a possibility that someone had seen their faces without them knowing. Not that it was a huge problem, Aleran knew this wasn't the modern world. There was no facial recognition software, and drawn pictures of suspects were often similar but not identical to the real person. Aleran deemed that as long as the City Lord didn't get any information from the Crimson Claw, they would be safe even if their faces were already known.
Unless of course, there was some kind of mystic ability to find them, a possibility Aleran could not rule out. But in that case, there was nothing he could do anyways, he would already be doomed. In the end, the most obvious factor for his decision was the uncontrollable greed, even some of the most honest men would sin given the right circumstances.
“Hehe, I get you. Let's just fill our pockets with spirit stones and light things. Nothing too big that could hamper our movements.” Kindrav said laughing but at the same time understanding the seriousness of the matter.
Aleran nodded, and with a somewhat embarrassed voice, he said. “And since we are at it, let's just keep a finger, you know, to see what is the big deal about this thing.” He didn't even wait for Kindrav's approval, he just stuffed it inside his pocket.
“ So much for choosing wisely. You don't look like it, but you are one greedy bastard. Whatever, if you get one I'll take one too.” Like a kid who wants a toy he cannot have, Kindrav also kept one of the fingers.
“Now, where should we continue?” Satisfied with his new ‘toy’, Kindrav looked around like a wolf at a pack of sheep. And suddenly his eyes lit up as he pointed to the right. “ Look over there.”
He pointed at two cloaks that were hanging from some sort of coat rack. The cloaks were hanging from their hood, one was white and the other black. Aleran looked closely but he couldn't find anything special about them. Instead, the coat rack was more eye-catching since it was made of gold. It was a sculpture of two coiling dragons going upwards and facing each other at the top. But it was too heavy and too flashy to take with them unnoticed.
Noticing the Aleran's eyes showing disappointment, Kindrav quickly said. “ If they are here they have to be valuable, and it is a point in our favor that they look so ordinary. Probably even if we passed right next to the City Lord wearing these he wouldn't even realize they were his.” Kindrav said as he fumbled around with the black coat and looked at his interior. “And look, this kind of cloak has many pockets, which means more things we can stuff in them.” He showed to Aleran the inside of the cloak that was filled with many small inner pockets as well as two big pockets.
“Look at you man, an instant ago you called me greedy and here you are trying to increase your stealing capacity. “ Even though he said that Aleran went and grabbed the white cloak. As he examined it, he caught sight of a few letters embroidered inside the hood. They were positioned in a way that only the one who wore the cloak would be able to look at them. And, although they were not very eye-catching, once Aleran laid his eyes upon the engraving he could feel how special this cloak truly was.
“Darkness Removal.” Aleran recited out loud the two words embroidered in an opaque golden color. He had been learning how to read mostly from Kindrav since Zarasen had only taught him simple words. But still, it took him a while to read only two simple words.
“Oh! This one also has an engraving. ‘Light Suppression.’ They have names so it means they must be special after all.” Kindrav said while putting the black cloak and the hood on. “ I don't feel anything strange, but we don't have time to test why these things are special, let's just fill out our pockets with spirit stones. Those are the safest things to steal.” Even Kindrav with his light mood could feel these cloaks were special once he looked at the engraving. But on the outside, the cloak looked completely unremarkable. If it weren't because they needed extra pockets they wouldn't have bothered to look at them.
It took almost one hundred spirit stones and a few bottles of pills that they had no idea what they were for, to fill their pockets. They picked the spirit stones from different small mountains, taking ten or twenty stones from each one. That way, it was hard to notice that spirit stones were taken without actually counting them. But that was not the reason why they did it. They started to move from mountain to mountain because they found out that every mountain of spirit stones was nurturing a small plant on the inside.
The plant was in its early stages of growth and had a single leaf that was almost transparent. Kindrav tried many times, but he could not lift the small pot where the herb was planted. And, when he tried to cut the stem with the sword he stole from Hadok, he could not make even a dent on it.
“Ahhh.” With a last swing of the sword, Kindrav finally gave up on taking one of the herbs with him. The plants were obviously something very precious, and since they were small he thought he could keep at least one. But not even with his half-step qi circulation stage strength could he chop the stem.
“Leave it there, we have lost too much time already. We need to move, the fight outside won't last much longer.” Aleran reminded Kindrav and, carrying the long wooden box with golden engravings, he started to walk towards the door of the vault. For a vault where treasures were supposed to be, there weren't as many as Aleran thought there would be. But that was probably because the City Lord was young and had not been in his position for long. And Aleran, in his ignorance, could pass next to an earthshaking treasure without even knowing.
Sill a little pissed at the plants he couldn't steal, Kindrav searched randomly around the room. He was only satisfied when he grabbed a black notebook that was on a drawer belonging to a small elegant desk. “Whatever this is, it will come with me.” He couldn't open the thin notebook, but it was light and could be carried easily. He couldn't open it, but as long as it could be carried he would take his time to inspect it later. So, he put the notebook in his pocket and followed after Aleran.
Praying that nobody was at the entrance to stop them., they started to head quickly towards the only exit. But once they were back on the entrance hallway Kindrav pointed to a room Rogdo had opened before. Nobody had bothered to close it, leaving the dark room filled with big wooden barrels opened for anyone to see. “ Al, wait! Look at that. See that flame on the barrels, It means that is burning water.”
Although he was a little curious about what burning water was, Aleran was more annoyed at being stopped just for that. “So what?”
“ Man, you are more of a country bumpkin than me! I bet you don't even know what burning water is.” Kindrav said, hitting the nail right on the head with his comment, and continued. “ Do you think that after all the mess we left behind they won't find us? If they make the effort, they would find us very easily. There are traces of blood everywhere, and guess what, some of that blood is ours.”
Kindrav pointed behind him. The entrance hallway was clean, but once you turned around the corner both the right and left hallway had big stains of blood. The right one was were Rogdo had killed the guard while the left one had the leftover blood stains from the fight they had lost. “ I didn't say anything because we don't have enough time to clean all this mess but with the burning water we can try.”
“Okay, I'm all ears.” Aleran said as he inwardly cursed himself for forgetting about that weird technique that used the inner qi in the blood of the parents to trace the qi of their children. If it could be used with the parents’ blood, the same could be done with the blood of the person in question. As long as not much time had passed, there would be some remnant inner qi in the blood. Aleran reminded himself that he still wasn't used to thinking in the context of this world and that he needed to work in that.
The moment the attack started Galdia was confident that it would be over soon and that the City Lord and his guards would take care of everything. Not only that, but the guards in charge of the city would also come to the rescue. Whoever had plotted this attack was wrong in the head, or at least, that was what she thought.
She was frightened for a moment by the big formation breaker that the enemy had used. But it was soon replaced with optimism thinking that perhaps they were just slightly more prepared than she had thought. Even at that moment, she didn't panicked.
But for some reason, as she peeked from the window in her room on the second floor of the guest house, she noticed there were fewer guards than usual. When the guards started to gather in their battle formation, her earlier feeling was confirmed. There were at least half of the usual numbers. What's more, there was only one trusted subordinate of the City Lord, the other two qi circulation, third phase cultivators under his command were nowhere to be seen. She didn't know that two of the City Lords trusted subordinates had died on his latest expedition. In fact, she didn't know about the expedition at all.
As the battle continued she realized that although the guards were holding on, they had their plates full with the organized troops of thugs. They didn't have the time to stop the many lone criminals that would find paths to avoid the guards and attack the mansion. And soon, these men started to notice the guest house.
There were only three that headed in the direction of the guest house. But to Galdia, they were three more than she could handle. She was a heaven opening, peak stage cultivator, but she had no battle experience whatsoever. The three men coming had her same cultivation, one seemed even stronger, and besides their numbers, they were obviously seasoned fighters.
‘If it weren't for that despicable scumbag, I would already be at qi circulation.’ She thought with resentment. She was a noble from a cultivation family, and the fact that she was 15 and was still in the heaven opening stage was a great shame to her. But what could she do? Her father had died and her uncle would not spare the same resources on her as he did on his own son.
The screams of the maids on the first floor that saw the enemies running towards them put her on high alert again. With fear slowly gripping her heart, she grabbed her sword and waited till the men entered the house. Once they were inside she opened the window and jumped from the second floor with ease. Even if she wanted, Galdia could not save those maids and servants, she could only take care of herself.
She started running among the trees even before making her mind as to where she was going. Almost all the sounds were drowned by the explosions coming from the sky where the true powerhouses were fighting. Sometimes they were so loud that she felt disoriented by them. It was so much that she didn't realize her current path was going to intercept the path of two men that were not at all friendly.
One of the thugs was skinny, had long black hair and had a smile that lacked most of its teeth. The other was a bit more muscular with short hair and a face full of scars. On their hands, they were both armed with weapons that looked more like machetes than swords. “ Oh, how lucky we are! A beauty has just dropped on our doorstep.” The skinny man laughed as he moved his eyes all over her body.
Galdia was a young girl with black hair and deep black eyes, that despite their color they had a shiny luster. Her face still had some baby fat and, coupled with her innocence, it made her look quite younger. In contrast, her body was quite developed with ample waist and breasts that made her look older. She was wearing a long, blue dress that was tight on the upper body and loose on the legs, this accentuated her curves. The skinny guy seemed to be fascinated by this contrast between her youthful, innocent face and her well-developed body.
Galdia's face paled at the sight of these two men and their lustful eyes. It was not the first time someone had look at her with those eyes. The image of her cousin crossed her mind, bringing with it unpleasant memories. But also rage, a monster of hatred she had store deeply inside her heart and had never allowed to come out.
Without saying a word, she stood in position with her sword pointing at the two men. ‘ It's just like in the training sessions, don't panic. Remember what you were taught.’ Her uncle did not teach her how to cultivate, that was the reason why she was still at the heaven opening stage. But as her cousin learned martial stances and other techniques she would also participate in the lessons. Although she was not allowed to make questions, she could learn from the sidelines.
Despite her rage, Galdia didn't charge. According to the instructor, if you are facing someone with more experience you either run or wait for them to attack. Of course, there were exceptions and it depended on each person. But Galdia didn't have the opportunity to ask about these exceptions. She knew that the more movements one makes the more likely you will create openings for your enemy to exploit. Although it would put you in a passive position it was safer than swinging your blade aimlessly.
She grabbed the hilt of her thin sword with two hands but with a soft grip, so soft that one may think the sword would fall from her hands at the slightest touch. Then, she raised the sword pointing outwards until the blade was aligned with her sight. And at the same time, she slightly bent her knees. The sword blade moved softly from left to right or up and down in a sinuous way that resembled the movement of a snake. Right now, she looked more like a poisonous serpent than a defenseless woman.
"Oh! The little beauty knows her stuff." The muscular man opened his mouth mockingly. Galdia's eyes still showed her reservations about fighting and he could see it. If he had not seen that doubt in her eyes he would have already turned around, because that pose belonged to a well-known style.
Unlike images, sword styles were shared freely unless they were part of some secret legacy. And the style Galdia was using was simply called the snake sword style. This was the official sword style used in the Sidrin empire and was something every noble would learn. It was a powerful style and when combined with other martial stances it had many variations and showed an increase in power.
"Brother, let's try to take her alive. I'm itching to taste this beauty." The skinny man said as he circled Galdia to get on her rear. But the girl kept moving constantly to not lose sight of either of her assailants.
“ Just focus and don't let your guard down.” The muscular man said nothing more, they were both in the heaven opening stage third phase but the woman was at the peak phase. He would not go easy on her.
'Swoosh' After closing the gap between him and Galdia, the muscular man pounced with a simple hack of the machete. And at the same time, the skinny man on her left went for her waist. They may not have the best teamwork but it was enough to put her in a bind.
But Galdia reacted almost on instinct. She seemed to become boneless as she used a weird-looking move of her sword to hit the incoming machete from the right deviating it towards the left. While at the same time, her body curved just enough to avoid the machete coming to her waist from the left.
"Ssss" Galdia inhaled deeply as the machete grazed her waist and left a shallow wound on her waist. She had calculated the timing to dodge wrongly.
Although she was in pain, this didn't stop her from making another movement with her sword and changing its angle. This time she stabbed at the skinny man who had just finished to swing his machete and was defenseless.
The thin sword went right through his eye. Galdia froze at the squashy feeling coming from the sword and at the sudden realization that she had killed someone. She had been relying on her muscular memory gained from hours of training. But her first kill had woke her up and made her mind waver for a second.
That small pause was enough for the muscular man to exploit and send another assault. Luckily for Galdia, she caught sight of it with the corner of her eye and she clumsily avoided the attack falling to the side together with the corpse that was still attached to the sword.
Again, she was hurt as she dodged, and this time, a deep gash appeared on her arm. An instant later and her whole arm would have been chopped off.
But thanks to the pain, she regained her composure and rapidly rolled on the ground, standing up and removing the sword from the skinny man in one movement.
By the time she stood up the muscular man had already runoff. These thugs that were not with the main force of the Crimson Claw were mostly cowards that took the chance to sneak out and kill the weaker people. They looked for the chance to kill and plunder while the others were fighting.
Galdia didn't chase after the man. She wasn't sure what would happen if the fight continued and preferred it this way. That Skinny man was the weaker of the two and the chance to kill him was only possible because he didn't recognize the style she was using. On the other hand, the muscular man had some understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of her style.
The main weakness of the snake style was in its defense that could be broken with fast blows that could not allow the style to deviate the attacks with precision. The man was wary of her having mixed the style with some martial stance and closed this weakness. That's why he preferred to run. If he had known she was far from combining martial stances and sword styles, he would have probably stayed since and finished her.
“Hhaa haa.” Galdia stood where she was, panting and regaining her breathing. ‘I must find Hadok.’ After gathering her thoughts and getting her bearings back, she decided on her best chance to survive. If this happened again in her current state she would be in peril.
Although the battle had left her in shock, she knew her chances of surviving would increase besides her cousin. She hated Hadok, but he would at least assure her safety. When her cousin tried to rape her, the threat of ending her own life was enough to dissuade him from continuing. It was not out of fear for her death but because he was concerned with keeping the appearances. If she died, it would be hard to explain to everyone else how it happened. She was the daughter of a well known general and her death could not be hidden easily.
But against these criminals, even if she took her own life they would probably defile her dead body. So it was much better to borrow the strength of her cousin no matter how much she hated him.
With her next course of action decided, she grabbed her sword and continued running towards the storage building. She could only hope her causing was still there despite all this chaos.
As she ran, the adrenaline started to wear off and her arm and waist started to sting. The discomfort started to become more and more prominent. Besides some small injuries, she had never gotten such wounds before in her life.
What was worse, was that she could still see the face of the man who died at her hands. She kept repeating in her head that he was a scum that deserved to die, but the image was still present in her head.
With a pale face, eyes that could bearly hold her tears, and trembling legs, she finally arrived at the building. She didn't know exactly how, it was like she had done everything out of instinct, but here it was, the plain cube that was the storage building.
Just when she was about to enter, the door opened and two men came out. Well, more than two men they were two boys. One with deep black eyes that made her feel like they would suck her into a world of darkness. While the other had blue eyes that looked at the world with an intensity that almost left her breathless.
But after her initial shock, she remembered why she was here. And with a trembling voice, she said. " I'm... I'm Galdia Sandrel and I'm looking for Hadok, did you see him? I'm his cousin ... he said he was going to be here reading old military records."
After speaking she kept looking everywhere as if enemies would jump up at any moment from the surrounding bushes. So concerned she was with her surroundings that she didn't notice the look of confusion and the small gestures between the two boys. They first had been on guard but seeing that she didn't look like a guard they relaxed a bit.
The blue-eyed boy said with a weird expression. " I don't know him, but I don't think he is here, most of the men have gone out. Why don't you go look for him somewhere else?" They truly didn't know, Hadok had never introduced himself to them, he went directly to torture them.
" I want to check just to be sure." Galdia knew her cousin would not obey just anyone and would not stick with the common guards. But more importantly, she wanted to first get inside and feel safe for a moment.
Finally, the boy with the black eyes spoke. " Well, you can try, but if he is not in the first rooms he is probably out with the rest."
"Thank you, I will intrude for a moment then." Galdia nodded somewhat absentmindedly while she looked around and entered the building. Meanwhile, behind her, the two boys looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders, one whispered to the other. “A pity, but I won't risk being exposed to save one girl.”
Once inside she started looking in the first rooms as the boy had advice her. Weirdly enough, all the rooms had the doors opened. She just had to enter and take a look around each room.
Maybe, the fact that she was inside a building that she considered safe helped her to feel the strangeness of the situation. As she walked through the hallway she thought. 'Odd, those two didn't even ask for proof of my identity and left me in. How lousy are these guards? With the situation outside it could happen, but it is still a negligent behavior.'
The more she advanced through the corridor the more she felt something was wrong. A familiar stench was in the air, but she kept thinking about those two boys on the entrance. By the time she reached the end of the entrance hallway, she opened her eyes wide. ' Wait! How didn't I notice? Everything was wrong with those two!'
After the battle, she was left in shock. No, she was still in shock. And that made her unable to see the weirdness of the situation. As she remembered carefully she realized that Under those coats, it was possible to see that those two were using normal clothes and that they had been injured. What's more, the blue-eyed boy was carrying a strange box but no weapon at all. Even worse, they didn't even react at her last name. It was like they hadn't heard about her family. And lastly, they were keeping their heads low, trying to hide their faces under the hoods. But since she was so close, it was impossible for her not to see their faces.
'They didn't ask me if I was okay despite my state, and that look of wariness they had...'
" Wait, this smell..." Galdia used to bake cakes with her mother when she was little. And she finally remembered what they used to cook. She looked left and right to both corridors and saw that they were stained with blood and a transparent liquid. " Burning Water!!"
On the entrance hallway, there was too little, but as she closed on the other two corridors, the Burning Water created a big stream all over the floor. It was clear that whoever had soaked the floor with it, had started at the back, running out of it on the front.
"Wooooosh" The sound of flames could be heard and it was becoming louder and louder.
Galdia paled, she looked at her feet that were touching the liquid and her heart stopped. It wasn't much, it had the tip of her shoes hardly soaked in it but the Burning Water was too volatile. Without wasting a second, she turned around and ran towards the exit. She ran with all her strength, barely making it before the fire was all over the place.
She dropped on the ground looking at the door being engulfed by the flames. " Those two! No, how could it be? They were not much stronger than me, they were circulating their qi and was similar to mine, maybe a little stronger. There should be at least a qi circulation, second phase cultivator in there."
She looked around to see if the boys were still around. But they were nowhere to be seen. " I'm screwed! I let them pass right under my nose." If they had been too strong for her to stop them she would be okay. But if anyone heard that she had let two guys with a little more strength than her go without doing anything not only the City Lord, even her uncle would skin her alive.
" Those two being able to set this place on fire means that my cousin probably isn't here. He must be fighting, so I can only go to the mansion and hide there for now." Galdia took in a deep breath, stood up with a jump and started to run again.