15 – Dark Mark Auction – I
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The young ruler of the underworld in Bruegal led Vaan down a series of winding corridors, each identical to each other.

No doubt a means to confuse intruders or spies.

Pointless to someone like Vaan that could sense the flow of mana and leave markers, but probably really effective against the average person.

Eventually, after rounding another corner, the hallway stopped. At its end, there was an ornate crimson door etched with gold leaf.

Thomas walked up to the door and raised his hand. A glyph formed in front of the door and unlocked it, causing the door to swing open. There, a large auditorium revealed itself. However, the door itself led to a series of box seats, like the VIP section of a theater. There were two rows of chairs, six in each, and each chair looked fancy. Black leather, embroidered wooden frame… it was clear that the box seat catered to a certain crowd.

“I’ll leave you here to get settled. Try not to stir up trouble with the other guests when they arrive.” With that polite request, Thomas left.

When he did, Vaan turned his attention to the stage below, as well as the box seats in the rest of the auditorium. There were a few more like the one where he was in, but they were mostly scattered throughout. In addition, there were seats on the floor below, but it didn’t seem like they would be filled up. At least, Vaan didn’t think they would be. He could be wrong though.

With nothing left to do, Vaan took a seat in the front row of the box, near the balcony. He chose the furthest seat on the right, mostly to keep some distance from those that would come in. After that, he waited. And waited. And waited… and after a few minutes passed with nothing happening, he decided to make better use of the time and pulled out his status card.


Name: Vaan
Title: One Who Creates, Magical Pioneer, Reckless Fool, Artificer
Class: Adventurer – F
Age: 21 years
Gender: Male
Race: Human

[Parameters]
Strength: E
Endurance: C
Agility: E
Mana: EX
Mental Power: C

[Skills]

Restoration – The ability to restore something to its former state.

Mana Manipulation – The ability to directly handle mana in its purest form, as well as deconstruct magical phenomenon back to its basic elements.

Conjuration – The ability to produce items from mana


As expected, he got a new skill from his actions as well as a title. But…

“Hm?”

Something was odd. He could have sworn that his age was different.

Did he misremember? The first time he used the status card, he remembered it saying that he was 18 years old. But now it was saying that he was 21 years old…

A headache again.

Vaan narrowed his eyes at the discrepancy but let it go.

It didn’t matter. What did was that he was alive, conscious, and well.

-An incongruity. Something about that thought was off, but he let it be.

This wasn’t the place for that.

In any case, it seemed like his parameters had increased a bit in addition to the other information.

How that translated to actual combat ability, he wasn’t certain. And so until he was certain, he had to be cautious.

Vaan tucked his card back and stared at the front, muttering, “Still a long way to go.”

Hopefully the auction would give him the resources to set off and answer some of his questions.

Vaan pulled out his journal and started writing down notes again of what to do next.

First off, Babel. He wasn’t sure exactly what it was about that place that seemed to be calling to him, but he wanted to at least take a look. The problem was getting in.

Money might be enough, but now that he had some time to think about it, as well as came face to face with someone that actually possessed authority and power, albeit in the underworld, he was beginning to think this wasn’t the right place to enter Babel.

Mm… Unless that guy had a means to get in? Something to ponder on later.

For now though, Vaan needed to think of some backup plans too.

There was the decision he had to make… Either spend time preparing or try and enter Babel as soon as possible.

His heart was telling him to enter Babel, but his mind told him that was a bad idea.

There was too much unknown at the moment and too many potential enemies lurking in the dark.

Vaan was also a lone power, and not one strong enough to withstand the storm that would inevitably emerge if he drew too much attention. At least, not yet.

Not to mention there was his power.

Spark of Creation wasn’t listed as a skill, but he had a title listing him as ‘One who Creates.’

Considering titles were supposedly granted by the world itself and inscribed on the soul along with the status, that meant that Spark of Creation was something ‘else’. Not Divine Providence, since that would have added a new category to the Status apparently, but another power.

Was that why he was in the cave? Did someone find out and try to get rid of him? Or… did he gain that power as a result of being in that cave?

Vaan frowned, lightly tapping on his chin… or rather, his mask.

And then he heard a door open from behind him.

Vaan quickly put his journal away and turned to look at the new people.

A man and a woman.

The first seemed to be a nameless thug, an expendable person that looked similar to the one he got rid of earlier. When he met Vaan’s gaze, the man flinched and quickly averted his gaze.

Hm.

It seemed like his reputation might have preceded him amongst Thomas’s employees.

The woman, however, seemed unaffected.

Like Vaan, she wore a mask. However, whereas Vaan’s demonic and intended to intimidate and frighten… probably an ironic joke on Thomas’s part, the woman’s mask was refined and elegant.

A porcelain mask intricately carved to mimic an arctic fox, with thin slits for the eyes that revealed pure blue orbs beneath it. That was what she used to cover her face. Along with that, the woman wore a white cloak with a crimson underside. It covered most of her clothes, but from the bit that couldn’t be hidden, a white dress with delicately embroidered silver snowflakes, Vaan could see that it was high-class.

Paired with the woman’s flowing silver hair and the abundant mana rolling off of her, she gave an unapproachable and aloof air. Definitely not someone to take lightly… and probably either a noble or princess.

Even so, when she locked eyes with Vaan- At least, the glowing portions of his mask that marked his eyes, she tensed.

Caution? Surprise?

Vaan didn’t know, but a tense atmosphere filled the air.

Seeing that, Vaan averted his gaze.

Only then did the two move.

The nameless thug left, leaving the door to shut behind him. As for the woman, she took a seat on the opposite end of the row where Vaan sat. But instead of staring down at the stage like Vaan, she looked at him, as if trying to figure him out.

Vaan glanced over and then muttered, “Interesting.”

When he said that, the woman quickly averted her gaze.

It seemed that his current appearance was a bit too intimidating.

He chuckled and then shifted his gaze as well.

More people began filtering into the other booths throughout the area, always accompanied by one of Thomas’s men.

Interestingly enough, those other people had people that seemed more refined and less disposable than the one that led the woman in.

Power dynamics at work? Or were the connections being put on display.

Whatever the case, it was a diverse group. Interestingly enough, only about half were wearing masks like Vaan and the woman in his booth. The other half had their faces on full display… and were also usually surrounded by a group of men of their own.

Were they important figures in the area? Powerful adventurers?

Either way, whenever they met Vaan’s gaze they became guarded.

Vaan couldn’t blame them. In an underground auction like that, a person as intimidating as he looked would leave anyone on guard. After all, the people present in the auction could range from nobles looking for some illicit goods to fugitives on the run.

…If they knew that he was a person weak enough to die to an average adventurer, that might change though. To that end, maybe it was good that he seemed so intimidating.

At that time, a booming voice echoed from the center of the auditorium. “Ladies and gentlemen of the night!”

A man stood on the stage down below, wearing a purple pinstripe suit and a silver mask that was half smiling and half frowning. He threw his arms out to the side and then bowed. “Welcome to the Dark Mark’s latest auction!”

Vaan narrowed his eyes.

The auction had begun.

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