297. Second Key
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Shield, do dryads use metal? Dallion asked. A lot, I mean.

I suppose you also think that we walk around naked, dressed only in flowers, the armadil shield said. In some cases, you’d be right. It’s been a while since an owner had made such a request. You never know, though. It’s always the quiet ones.

Shield… Dallion wasn’t in the mood for that type of conversation. After spending so much time with the armadil shield as his gear, he had gotten used to this type of talk.

No, it’s not that unusual. During the war we had to adapt our technology to be multi effective. The guardians in this world seem more traditional, but that wouldn’t exclude the use of metals.

How many of them used metal not from this world?

The armadil shield said nothing.

The point of interest was a fair distance away. If Dallion gave it his all, he probably could reach it within fifteen minutes, give or take. That means that it would likely take him about an hour to meet up with Agnii. That wasn’t going to make the crafter pleased, but then again, the ship was going nowhere without Dallion. Besides, March, Vend, and Eury were nowhere to be seen.

Reciting the names of the Moons, Dallion leapt to the nearest roof to the tower, then continued on towards the mysterious metal. The entire trip there, Nil kept talking, explaining in greater detail that just because something was made of weird metal didn’t mean it was useful. Examples of ancient teapots were mentioned on more than one occasion, including a terribly boring story about how a war had taken place due to bad intelligence on the empire’s part. Apparently, one of the early emperors had been left with the impression that a neighboring kingdom was hiding some treasure of otherworldly origin, resulting in a seven-year war—and the utter annihilation of the kingdom in question. In the end, it had turned out that the item was nothing more than a kettle—most likely from Earth if Dallion would venture a guess.

Don’t worry, Nil, Dallion had reassured the echo. I promise not to start a war if I find a kettle.

The building the mysterious metal was kept in turned out to be a smithy. That wasn’t particularly good. After going through the rooms in search of the item, though, it turned out that the prize was hidden within the wall and—judging by the size—was a safe. That was far more promising.

Let’s see what we have here, Dallion thought, and summoned the Nox dagger.

Carefully, Dallion slid the tip of the blade along the wall in the area of the safe. Cracks followed, soon forming a rough square. After several more passes, Dallion casually slid the blade over the inside of the entire surface, then gave it a strong kick. The material shattered, revealing a large metal box with three dials—a combination safe. It wasn’t a model Dallion had seen in the past.

What do you think now, Nil? Dallion asked in a smug fashion, as he slid his fingers across the cold surface.

There’s no accounting for luck. However, you still haven’t achieved anything. True, you found the box, but it’s still closed.

Not for long.

Dallion slid the tip of the Nox Dagger along the surface. However, this time, nothing happened.

Indestructible, Dallion thought. It stood to reason that someone who’d gone through all the pains to hide something in a safe made of other-worldly metal would make sure it couldn’t be destroyed by the first crackling that passed by. That made opening it slightly more difficult, though not that much.

Gen, Dallion thought. Can you tell Lux a thing or two about gears?

Already ahead of you, the echo replied. This won’t be an exact science. You’ve only seen YouTube videos of that.

That was true. Despite his early fascination with safe cracking and lock picking, Dallion hadn’t gone beyond watching a few weeks of videos online. He was ashamed to admit that his fascination was entirely due to video games, where he was annoyed at his inability to open chests due to minigame limitations. In this case, he was hoping that Lux would get a better understanding of things and be able to work as an automated safe cracking device.

Dear boy, sometimes I wonder where I went wrong, Nil sighed. You have so much potential, not to mention two familiars with extraordinary abilities and you use them to… pick locks.

Someone has to do it, Dallion joked. I thought you admired ingenuity? You never know when something of the sort will become useful. What if I’m imprisoned somewhere and need to escape?

If anyone locks you up in a room, you’ll have a lot easier ways to escape than resorting to this.

The firebird emerged on Dallion’s shoulder, then slid into the safe through one of the dials, like a trail of blue flame. Before Dallion could start giving instructions, the safe door swung open.

Wow, Dallion blinked. That was impressive, to say the least.

Proud of its achievement, the bird flew out of the door returning to Dallion’s shoulder. Chirping filled the room, followed by incessant flapping around. All the praise during the recent fights had gone to Lux’s head; he was acting like a child waiting to be complimented for a job well done.

“Yes, Lux.” Dallion laughed. “You did a good job. I’m sure that Nox thinks so as well.”

A semi-annoyed meow sounded from Dallion’s echo. By the sound of it, Nox thought that the younger familiar had a lot to learn. That didn’t sour the mood of the bird one bit. Beaming, brighter than usual, the firebird calmed down, returning to Dallion’s shoulder yet again.

Now, the time had finally come for Dallion to see his prize. There remained a slight fear that the safe might be empty. Thankfully, that turned out not to be the case… at least not exactly. Within the thick metal walls there was a small square ingot of metal, the likes of which Dallion had never seen before, as well as a glowing crimson sphere of light.

The moment Dallion reached for it, the sphere darted towards him, disappearing into his forehead.

“Shield!” Dallion jumped back, but it was too late. The sphere was gone. “Has anything entered my realm?” he asked out loud.

Everything seems fine, Gen replied. I’ll check to be sure.

Damn it! Dallion cursed. Taking a deep breath, he tried to remain calm. For a few moments, he feared that a protector might have invaded his realm. The worst part was that he didn’t dare link to it, since that might be part of the trick. It was possible that the sphere acted like a trojan virus, waiting for him to establish the connection before it could do some real damage.

Nothing seems out of the ordinary, dear boy, Nil said. He too had spent a while going through Dallion’s realm along with the guardians. While caution is a virtue, you would have been warned that something had invaded your realm. This remains an awakened realm, after all. We’re not in the real world where you have to rely on feeling alone.

Then what was it?

That remains a mystery. Maybe a practical joke, or maybe—

 

 

You have received Centor’s Boon!

 

 

A blue rectangle emerged in the air.

 

 

Follow the instructions to fold the Moon Platinum into the destiny it holds.

 

 

Dal, take ingot from the box, the armadil shield said.

Why? Dallion asked, still staring at the rectangle.

I think I know what you found. If I’m right, you’re one lucky kid.

Some details would have been nice, but knowing the restrictions of the world, Dallion just did as he was asked. There were a few grains of doubt that emerged within him, but so far the shield hadn’t led him astray, so he decided to trust him.

Slowly, he took the unknown metal from the safe. A bouquet of markers emerged—indication how Dallion was supposed to fold it into shape. It resembled a complex origami, but unlike the sky silver instructions, Dallion could actually follow them.

Is it supposed to be so easy? He wondered.

Cautiously, he followed the first few steps. The piece of metal changed shape appropriately, as if it were a ball of putty or an extremely strange and complicated rubix cube. Once Dallion was done with half of the instructions, more appeared, letting him know he wasn’t finished.

This was unexpected, but also enjoyable. The markers seemed to know his limit, making sure to provide just enough instructions at a time for him to follow. Minutes passed. The piece of metal turned and twisted. Dallion stopped wondering what he was creating and just went on with it, more eager to reach the end than anything else.

Finally, he did. The moment of joy was short-lived, though. The item flashed. The metal he was holding changed into a multitude of other metals—seven, to be exact. And as for the item itself, it was something that Dallion had already seen.

 

 

You have created Tears of Vermilion

 

 

Dallion felt as if a lump of ice was stuck in his throat. The last time he had seen such an item was when the Mirror Pool had forced him to “find out” whether it was killing their members. Dallion had entered the item, of course, only to find out a very lethal island snake guardian. In fact, he too would have suffered permanent effects if it hadn’t been for the armadil shield. What was such an item doing here, though?

In its current form, the item resembled a ring. Only once it was activated would it change into its real form. Dallion still wasn’t certain what its function was in that form, but he knew it was important enough for the Order of the Seven Moons to be involved; not to mention that there was someone out there willing to kill indiscriminately to obtain it.

Let’s go back to Agnii, Dallion thought, placing the ring in his coin pouch. We’re late as it is.

No one in Dallion’s realm uttered a word. Even Lux had stopped chirping. Sensing its owner’s fear, the firebird returned to the realm, where it remained close to Gen in order to get a sense of what was going on.

The truth was that the ring had brought back concerns Dallion had put away. Being one of two people who were present at the leveling up of the other ring was alarming enough. Having found one on his own filled him with mixed feelings.

It took Dallion half an hour to reach Agnii. The crafter captain wasn’t at the main square, deciding to start preparing the ship at the piers. Most of the other party members didn’t seem to bother too much. Few of them had any crafting skills, so all they could do was carry whatever materials the woman wanted. It was an open secret that none of them particularly enjoyed that task.

“Finally here,” Agnii said as Dallion approached. “Enjoyed the sightseeing?”

Dallion wanted to reply that he didn’t, but only smiled instead. “Didn’t think there’d be so much left of it,” he said. “How come it wasn’t destroyed?”

“The usual reasons. Luck and good materials.”

“Same goes for the ships?” Dallion glanced at the nearby vessel. It looked just as a seventeenth century ship should look… minus the sails and a few masts. Not that they were broken—rather, they had never been put in place. It was as if the builders had constructed the parts, but left them unassembled for some reason.

“The ships were gone when we got here. We were lucky to find some spare parts. This—” Agnii tapped the side of the hull “—never was a ship. It’s just a lot of spare parts put together. I spent months figuring that out, while March was busy killing any nasty on this side of the sea. And when she was done, she started fighting things off the coast as well.”

“You assembled all this?”

Impressive work, to say the least.

“Yep. And it’s seaworthy. All of them are. We left them here during the last expedition to be sure they won’t sink. Nice to know that some of them haven’t.”

It was difficult to tell whether that was a joke or not. More than likely some had, though not overly much. The only thing of importance was that the ship they used on this expedition didn’t share such a fate.

“You think your firebird can handle that?” Agnii asked.

“Think so,” Dallion replied in absentminded fashion. “Not sure about the steering.”

“We have a scout for that. Eury will take care of it when she returns. Until then, I want to do a few test runs. Nothing big, just a few miles here and there with us inside.”

“No problem.”

“Want us to start now?”

“No time like the present.” The woman nodded. “Let me just do a final check and we’ll be off.”

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