125 – Dangerous fellow
The man crumpled to the ground even as a faint hint of a headache made itself known to Albert’s sensibilities. The man’s power was clearly below Albert’s own 33, and it was easy to tell even without a scan by the way magic acted around him. Everyone in this world was either magic or Doom – or a mix of both like Scrappy was – therefore by looking at how magic behaved it was possible to have an idea of someone’s Power without risking a scan.
The brawl, which ended in less than a second, also functioned to provide Albert with an answer to one of his questions. He learned that he did, indeed, retain some sort of martial arts knowledge from the times of the System. It appeared that all the practice he did was not for nothing, and some sort of muscle memory had been ingrained into his mind. For this particular opponent, then, all that had been necessary was a speed and strength boost with Free-Bending, but Albert made a note to address the fact that his martial knowledge, while there, was not as good as it was before.
The brawl didn’t seem to have caused ripples across the room. Judging by the stink of alcohol coming from the unconscious man, and from the way his friends laughed and pointed, it seemed that the man had it coming. Albert moved on, feeling slightly less guilty about it.
The guild common room was small, cramped and full of way more humanity than Albert wanted to deal with. He made sure to keep Scrappy close to him, the diminutive boy too tiny and weak to be let out of his sight, and made his way towards the counter. His plan was to gather information and scamper off as quickly as possible, even aided by Jeff’s use of magic if that meant getting out of here faster.
However, a map at the corner of the room caught his attention and he briefly considered Bending reality so that he could see it from where he was but didn’t. Instead, he pushed his way towards it. From a distance he thought he recognized the shape of the continent he saw there, and he didn’t like what his intuition was telling him.
Konstan was a busy man. The news coming from Tulebord village had not only thrown a wrench in his plans, as the dwarves would say, but they had completely upheaved his plans for the whole week. If what the preliminary report said was true, and there was no sap to be found for the coming battle with the northeners, then trouble was about to brew past the point where he could still afford to remain neutral.
People thought that with as large a power as the guild and all its adventurers at his disposal, and relative freedom from the central control due to his peculiar location, Konstan could throw his weight however he wanted. People failed to grasp the nuances of the dance of power, however, not understanding that while he did have a lot of power to throw around, it was not enough to allow him to do whatever he wanted while at the same time it was too much for him to be able to call himself neutral in a major conflict.
Whether it would be the infighting, the actual war or what came after that spelled Konstan’s doom, he was almost completely certain that his doom would come. Not to mention, if the scryers were correct in their readings, the appearance of actual Doom meant that even should he survive all three highly chaotic events, there was yet another monster looming in the distance. They had told him that, in less than a year, something was going to happen. What? They didn’t know.
But it was big. They claimed that, beyond the threshold posed by this unknown event, they could not see the future anymore. As if a cliff had appeared in reality and had severed existence itself from its continued flow through time. An event that had never happened in known history and, Konstan feared, if it had ever happened before there was a reason history did not know it did.
Whenever things like this happened, history ended. That was why. Perhaps in the ruined cities of the old civilization one could find hints as to what happens at the end of time, but even that was speculation. There was no way to enter, and even if there was, those were places where young and ambitious adventurers were sent so that they could taste what the real world was like, not places where answers could be found easily.
All this to say that Konstan was too busy to worry himself with every random person walking into the guild without a token. No matter that this particular man in question was a nonmage and yet he seemed to be able to speak and move normally. No matter that he had a were-cat girl in tow reeking of Doom and snapped fortune threads. While normally all these things might have been interesting to investigate, now was not the time.
What the man did to the drunk adventurer by the door made Konstan reconsider immediately.
He squinted. A man was sent flying using nothing but brute force, technique and a hint of… something. He would have missed it had he not been looking at the man while he did his musings in his mind, but for the briefest moment the karmic threads of fortune that permeated the whole universe snapped all around the man. For a moment, the man was an island in the sea of fate, and by the time his threads reconnected he had done the deed and the drunk was groaning on the floor.
Not only that, but the karmic threads were back where they belonged as if nothing at all had happened.
This strange man moved and commanded a type of energy never seen before. Not the mana Konstan cultivated, nor the Doom that crept in the world. He used an energy that was invisible, tasteless and utterly severed from fate, the only hint of its existence being the void it left behind. And the mana, mundane and normal, swirling around the man who was utterly devoid of it.
Konstan had to engage now. Whatever was the deal with this strange man, he couldn’t let such an opportunity pass him by. Even though the depth of the void of this man was still shallow, meaning that there was not much raw power, the finesse and flexibility of such a power capable of snapping fate itself meant that it didn’t matter. In fact, for the first time in a long time Konstan might need to exercise caution.
“Europe? How did we end up in Europe?” The man muttered. Konstan did not know what he was referring to, other than it was evident he was looking at the map of the continent. What he meant by the name he did not know, although it bore resemblance to some name in the old tongue.
It didn’t matter. The guild master approached him, putting on his best smile.
“Name’s Konstan, guild master of Bastion and former S-rank.” He said, adding his former rank so that the man knew that he was not to be underestimated. “What brings you here?”
The man turned around from the map and studied him with nothing more than a casual glance. Konstan kept his arm outstretched to shake hands, but noticed that the man was studying the very air around himself. Normally, it would be considered a weird behavior, however…
“What’s with the squiggly magic?” The man asked, making Konstan frown. “Why is your mana making threads? Why is it poking me?”
There was a pulse of something, and suddenly all the karmic threads vanished. Only those inside Konstan’s body were left. The man massaged his temples.
“I’m not shaking your hand.” He said. “Were you attacking me?”
The man’s outrageous claim shook Konstan out of his stupor. The realization that the man could render him almost powerless in an instant, leaving only whatever internal cultivation Konstan happened to have with barely a thought was sobering but he recovered quickly.
“I’m sorry.” He said. “I can’t control it, actually. It’s the nature of my power but I assure you, it’s nothing malicious.”
Still, he retracted his hand.
The man nodded. “Cultivator?”
Konstan nodded, and the man’s eyes glazed over for a moment. This time, Konstan could clearly see the mana of the room swirl and move, before a powerful force seized it and stilled it once again. The man muttered something to himself, before looking at him in the eye.
“Karmic. Sweet. I’m surely not touching that hand now.”
“I assure you—”
“Name’s Albert. This boy here is Scrappy.” He paused. “But you don’t get to call him that. You call him Scrap, and see that you don’t mean it in the disrespectful way.”
Konstan smiled, although his smile did not reach his eyes. This Albert person was not even an adventurer, yet he had the audacity to try and push him around.
The moment of fury passed quickly. Albert did not even wait for Konstan to come to the conclusion that someone with that level of power could, actually, do what he wanted even to him and instead kept talking as if he owned the place.
“You said Guild master, didn’t you?” Albert said with obvious disgust in his voice. Not aimed at Konstan, but very present nonetheless. “Have you ever heard of something called a Kirkesis core?”
Konstan was shocked. He immediately led the man to his most secure room in due haste. Not many people knew of the legendary artifact, and even less had the spine to talk about it in the open like that. The fact that a random person, an outsider to the guild and the city both, had simply breezed in, nullified most of Konstan’s power with barely an afterthought and mentioned the artifact without half a care meant that the situation could potentially be explosive.
The guild master could see that this Albert fellow was quite tense, trying to protect his servant boy and looking around and behind his back. This meant that he was not a fool, and the level of danger this person signified went up a notch.