Chapter 225 – Catching up the elderly
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Scarlett sat beside Dean Godwin on the bench, her eyes fixed on the Loci at the garden’s heart. “I appreciate your patience, allowing me to conclude my affairs before greeting you,” she said.

“Interrupting a noble lady during her personal matters is something I endeavour to avoid when possible. The tales of my impropriety are often overstated, I’ll have you know. Besides, I did not mind the chance to observe the progress of your protective spirit while I waited,” the man replied. His tone, though light, held a noticeable gravity.

Scarlett turned to look at the old wizard. “You are here concerning the incident in Bridgespell, I presume.”

“Quite right, Baroness.” He nodded. “I’ve been away from the empire on various ventures and only learned about the events upon my return. The emergence of one of the six Vile’s citadels in our lands has stirred concern among many of the empire’s influential circles. It seems, in my absence, the continent teetered on the edge of another Desolation Calamity.”

Scarlett met his intense gaze, maintaining a calm expression. As always, she had to be careful about what she said around this man, since he could detect lies.

“The situation may have appeared grave, but I assure you, such fears are without merit.”

The man observed her closely, forehead slightly creased, likely trying to determine the truth of her words. He absentmindedly stroked his neat white beard, then allowed his gaze to wander to the vibrant garden before them. “One troubling characteristic of yours, Baroness, is your ability to make me question my ring’s effectiveness. Your conviction, even when speaking such bold and far-fetched claims, is always remarkable.”

Scarlett’s attention drifted to his gloved hand, beneath which the truth-telling artifact from Fynn’s tribe was concealed.

“… I would be a fool to deceive you, knowing what I do,” she said.

“A fool to lie, certainly, but I do not think you are incapable of finding ways to navigate the facts to your favor,” he replied. “Truth has always been a fickle thing, even to someone like me who can discern it in others.”

Scarlett chose to remain quiet on the matter.

There was a brief period of silence as Godwin’s expression turned contemplative. “I’ve already looked into Bridgespell. Elystead Tower, along with the other mage towers and the Ustrum Assembly, has worked to secure the citadel’s vicinity, and we are lending our aid in exploring the situation. Our current findings indicate any immediate threat has subsided, thankfully. My contacts experienced with demons confirm that, while the Blazes are in turmoil, all the Viles appear confined to their respective domains.”

Scarlett arched a brow. Anguish had left her domain though, and was now sealed inside Rosa.

Perhaps news of this hadn’t widely spread, given Malachi’s usurpation of the Vile’s authority and her link to the Blaze of Anguish. It was possible that the woman’s presence there was being misinterpreted as Anguish’s.

Godwin continued, his voice steady. “While it does appear as if no Vile has gained a foothold in our realm, it’s evident that there was an attempt to. The lingering citadel speaks of as much, but there is much confusion as to why it persists when there is seemingly no connection to the Blazes to sustain its presence.

“Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are many questions that remain unanswered regarding this scenario. The emperor has decreed a comprehensive investigation, involving the Shields Guild, the Followers of Ittar, and other concerned parties.” The man turned to face Scarlett directly. “Personally, I am aware of only one means through which a Vile might manifest here, and it happens to involve someone closely associated with you.”

Scarlett met his gaze squarely. “Speak plainly.”

“I have already heard of your involvement with the citadel’s events, Baroness Hartford. If I may be so bold as to ask, was Miss Hale also implicated?” Godwin asked.

“Yes,” Scarlett answered without hesitation.

He seemed to consider her reply. “…You assured me once that no Vile would touch your incarnate.”

“I promised that I would prevent the situation from escalating beyond my control. As you yourself have acknowledged, the immediate threat surrounding the citadel has passed, so it should be evident that I have kept my word.”

“Your notion of being in ‘control’ is peculiar, Baroness.” The man scrutinized her closely for several seconds. “…Yet, considering that you remain both sane and alive, there may indeed be some validity in your claims. Still, I must ask: did you strike a deal with the Vile?”

“During the proceedings in Bridgespell, you mean?”

Godwin’s gaze sharpened slightly. “I mean during or apart from those events.”

Scarlett resisted the urge to click her tongue. No worming herself out of that question, then.

“I did not strike any sort of deal with the Vile in Bridgespell that would compromise my standing as a noble or a citizen of the empire, no. Prior to that, however… I did enter into a pact of non-interference with the Vile to safeguard Miss Hale. That said, it is important to note that this pact became void once the citadel appeared.”

Surprise briefly flickered in the wizard’s eyes. “A Vile agreed to such a pact with a mortal?”

“She had little choice in the matter,” Scarlett declared.

“And how did you manage that?”

“I threatened to otherwise expose one of her covert agents within the empire’s nobility. She acquiesced to my demands at the time, underestimating the threat I posed. In hindsight, she likely came to regret that decision.”

Godwin’s expression grew contemplative once more. “I tried to uncover more details about what transpired within the citadel after its appearance, but there was regrettably little to learn. Are you implying that your intervention is what thwarted the Vile’s manifestation?”

Scarlett nodded. “I was, yes.”

There was no point in lying about that to this man.

“And the noble who served as the Vile’s pawn? Who are they?”

“That information, I am afraid, is not something I can disclose. Rest assured, justice will be served in due time, through appropriate channels.”

“I see…” Godwin paused thoughtfully. “Which Vile was it that attempted to manifest?” he eventually asked.

“Anguish,” Scarlett replied.

“Anguish, you say? I have heard that she is a devious one.”

“She is, but she is arrogant as well. That was her undoing.”

“You speak as if you vanquished the Vile.”

“What I did was not far off from that.”

“Truly?” Interest gleamed in Godwin’s eyes, replacing some of the earlier seriousness. “Please, do enlighten me what you mean by that. How exactly did you confront a demon of such caliber?”

Scarlett considered him for a bit. “Before I share that, I need your assurance that our conversation remains strictly between us.”

He raised both eyebrows. “Let me remind you, Baroness, that the empire has mandated an inquest into the cause of the events in Bridgespell.”

“That may be, but I believe you will find my insights on upcoming events far more vital to the empire than the specifics of my past actions. Moreover, though a Vile sought to manifest through my retainer in an attempt to lay waste to our realm, I dealt with the issue in a way that ensured no civilians were harmed.”

“From what I have heard, an entire village’s population vanished,” Godwin pointed out.

“Crowcairn, yes. That settlement served as an enclave for the Tribe of Sin, something you were probably already aware of, despite Duke Valentino’s attempts at secrecy. Their involvement precipitated the citadel’s emergence.”

Judging from the wizard’s expression, he was, in fact, aware of as much.

“If you can promise not to divulge our discussion,” Scarlett said, “I will reveal how I subdued the Vile. In exchange, however, I may ask a favor of you in the future.”

Godwin remained silent for a while, as if he was actually considering her proposal.

Scarlett suspected he’d already mostly made of his decision before arriving here. His spending time to investigate matters himself before coming here and his readiness to hear her out suggested he was still keen on collaborating with her. If she were to guess, he just needed to confirm she wasn’t some demonic worshipper in disguise. He should already know that she wasn’t a Cabal spy, at the very least.

If he did try to make her involvement in the citadel’s appearance public, she reckoned that she could leverage her noble status and the connections she’d made to stall out the worst consequences for a while. The actual evidence against her was scarce, and she could get people like Raimond to vouch for her if necessary.

“I trust that you see the benefit in our continued partnership,” she said after the man hadn’t replied for a while.

Godwin gave her a small, knowing smile. “It seems you have already seen me through, then. What I overlooked mentioning earlier was that Elystead Tower has not formally joined the citadel investigations. In essence, I personally am under no immediate obligation to report any related findings I might stumble upon.”

“I see. So, do I have your word that you will maintain your discretion?” Scarlett asked.

“You do. And a gentleman’s word is his bond.”

“Good.”

Scarlett went on to give Godwin a summarized account of her dealings with Anguish and what had happened in Bridgespell, carefully filtering the details to reveal only what she deemed necessary.

Godwin did interject with questions, particularly regarding Scarlett’s strategy to liberate Rosa from Anguish’s influence and her alliance with Malachi, but she was careful with her responses. It was likely Godwin sensed she wasn’t disclosing everything, but it would be difficult for him to force any more out of her.

When Scarlett neared the end of her explanation, detailing how she used Anguish’s real name to weaken the Vile so that they could seal her properly, Godwin displayed a rare expression of pure astonishment.

“You discovered the true name of a Vile?!” he exclaimed, eyes slightly widened.

Scarlett found his shock slightly amusing. “I did, yes.”

“How? For centuries, scholars have contested whether Viles even possess true names, given the lack of historical evidence.” He studied her closely. “Was this another revelation that your precognitive talents showed you?”

“Indeed, it was.”

“Hmm.” Godwin stroked his beard, seeming to get lost in thought for a moment. “If even such insights are revealed to you, it would certainly explain your confidence. I continue to be astounded by that ability of yours, Baroness. It is regrettable that I have yet to make any progress in understanding it since we last spoke. Pray tell, has your foresight revealed the names of any other Viles?”

“It has not,” Scarlett said. “My visions typically relate to imminent significant events. Anguish’s manifestation was among these, which is why I learned her true name. The same does not extend to the other Viles.”

“A shame, that, but I suppose it should also be considered a blessing. Our empire already faces ample challenges without adding another Vile’s intrusion into the equation. But you’ve mentioned that, with Anguish’s name, you and this ‘Malachi’ could subdue the demon. Given that your foresight appears intertwined with the very same fate you have demonstrated the power to change, it seems unlikely that you can foresee a future that you yourself helped shape. Can you then be certain Malachi won’t pose a threat comparable to Anguish, especially now that she holds a portion of the Vile’s power?”

“Malachi’s intentions were never to dominate our realm, unlike the Viles,” Scarlett said. “Even if she sought to emulate Anguish’s actions, her comparative lack of power would almost certainly hinder any such ambitions for the foreseeable future. I do not see her becoming a significant danger.”

“Perhaps you are right. Indeed, any successor to the Blazes might be preferable to a Vile,” Godwin replied. “Now, regarding Anguish, I am eager to understand more about her current state.”

“What more is there to elaborate on?” Scarlett asked.

“Much, I dare say.” Godwin let out a disbelieving sigh. “The very idea that a Vile—beings that predate several of the oldest civilizations—could be confined within a human remains quite astonishing.”

“Considering that a Vile can inhabit an incarnate to achieve physical form in the Material Realm, I do not see why it should surprise that they can also be confined within one.”

The wizard lifted a finger. “But therein lies the mistake of applying conventional logic to entities that transcend typical understanding. Never have I even heard the suggestion that such a containment should be possible.”

“Yet it proved successful.”

“So you claim.” The man fell silent for a few seconds. “…I would like to see Miss Hale, if possible.”

Scarlett’s eyes narrowed. “I am afraid that I cannot allow that.”

“I ask that you reconsider. The presence of a Vile’s essence within a living individual, in a controlled state, is unprecedented. As a practitioner of the arcane arts, and to ensure she poses no danger to herself or others, I must witness this myself. I’m particularly intrigued by this ‘Heartstone’ used in the sealing process.”

“What insights do you expect to gain?” Scarlett asked. “You yourself have admitted your limited expertise in matters related to demons, and I will not subject my people to be mere specimens for study.”

“A respectable stance,” he replied. “However, I believe I could help Miss Hale understand and harness her new capabilities. It would be in both our interests to ensure Anguish cannot make a resurgence.”

“I am confident Miss Hale can master her abilities without outside help.”

“Perhaps, but can you be absolutely certain that it would not be better for her if she did have my assistance?” Godwin waved his hand, summoning forth a small, ornately carved amulet in it.

[Whispering Amulet of Thainnith (Unique)]
{An ancient power resonates within, whispering words of a realm untouched and sealed. When that which cowered trembles, these whispers relate its stirring with watchful eyes}

It was the Zuverian artifact the man had shown Scarlett during their previous meeting.

The man presented the amulet to her. “You mentioned that the Heartstone was created from an Astral Soulstone, a nigh-legendary Zuverian artifact. Like this amulet here, such objects are inordinately complex. My knowledge in artifice and my familiarity with Zuverian relics might reveal aspects that would elude you or Miss Hale.”

Scarlett frowned, pondering his offer.

“I assure you that I will approach the matter with the appropriate discretion and respect your wishes throughout,” he continued. “I have already faced some stern reprimands from Adalicia, and, in extension, my own daughter, after they learned of our first encounter. Since I do not want to dwell on past misunderstandings, I will not hold sharing that with her against you, but I do ask that you consider my request now.”

It was true that Scarlett occasionally exchanged letters with Adalicia Mendenhall, and in those, she had lightly touched on her somewhat rough first meeting with Godwin. But she hadn’t expected Adalicia to confront him directly about it. And the woman had even shared it with the man’s daughter, it seemed.

That was an amusing thought.

After thinking it over for a few seconds more, Scarlett eventually nodded her head. “Very well. I will permit a meeting with Miss Hale, provided that she consents.”

Godwin smiled. “Splendid. Then, let us not tarry, as my time is somewhat constrained.”

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