I was tense.
I absolutely had to execute this plan perfectly. The guards could not see me. The man could not notice me. I had to become invisible, unnoticeable, completely non-existent. I simultaneously activated two skills I had relearned over the month, [Cat’s Paws] and [Illusionary Presence]. The first allowed me to make no sound when I walked. If I did so carefully, my trot would be silent. The latter would cause any being that happened to look my way to not notice me. They could stare me dead in the eyes and they wouldn’t even know I was there. This did not make me invisible mind you, and all the other senses functioned normally. So, if I smelt off or I stepped on a branch, I would be done.
Naturally, I prepared for this. I hadn’t dressed heavily. No robes would blow in the wind and flap, and I didn’t need to fear tripping over long garments. I had on some cargo pants, boots, a simple tunic, and a small, hooded cloak. I had tied it down for now. I kept a shortsword in a sheath at my back, and a pair of daggers at my hip. It should be enough equipment for what I was getting myself into today. I even bathed, just to be sure.
I smoothly jumped from the tree and crept up behind the man. He was at the ends of his conversation with the two guards.
“Well then. Edward, Johnson, I’ll be heading in for now.”
“Of course, Sir Flavio, enjoy.”
“Be careful, Sir Flavio.”
The grand, golden doors were opened, making loud creaking noises, as if they were tired of being opened every day for the same man.
Flavio kept his jovial stride as he walked in and down the steps, I followed a few paces behind, nearly jumping when the doors suddenly slammed shut. At the bottom, my eyes widened in awe. The vault is way bigger than I ever thought it to be. I gazed upon a long, wide room filled to the brim with jewels and gold and artifacts at every step. It was painted white and gold, like the motif of other aspects of the Church, and it was so bright that I had to squint my eyes a bit. Looking towards the sides, I could see 8 openings on the walls, 4 on each side. Was there even more than this? How much money did the Church have? I heard a sigh from Flavio.
“I hate going through this damned labyrinth every day.”
I’m sorry, labyrinth? This vault is big enough to warrant a labyrinth? I was expecting a room with the best treasures imaginable, and my weapons perhaps stashed in one corner. I was not expecting to be like a lab rat in a maze! This put a wrench in my plans, surely there was a way to easily find the location of my gear. I couldn’t afford to spend a whole day lost in here when I had stuff to do. Before I could even hope to think about my new problem, Flavio started to walk further in. Figuring I could learn something from him, I followed.
I memorized every turn we took. Second door on the right. Then left, left, right, left, right, up some stairs, then right, knock on a certain dead end. Then right, then left. Finally, we reached a circular room. It was lined with gold coins along the circumference, and in the middle stood a white pedal with a golden, hourglass-shaped jar on it. It had some jewels encrusted in it, along with other markings. Flavio went up to it and held it up, like a certain baby lion at the edge of a cliff.
“Mwah! My absolute precious. Oh, how I love adoring you every single day! Your elegant shine, and your oh so graceful curves! Your etchings and embroidery, and your encrusted jewels! If only more people could bask in your everlasting, fragile beauty! Maria dares not comprehend your pretty looks, my dear treasure. She just doesn’t understand something valuable when she sees it! I swear she was more sensible before I married her.”
This dude was out of his mind. I’ve never seen someone so openly attached to a piece of metal. He even kissed it. Dude, what would Maria think of this? Her love rival is some random artifact. Maria, you have my condolences.
Watching him hug the thing so tenderly, I came up with a plan on the spot. I was reluctant, but I would have to indulge in one of the stereotypes of a Rogue. I deactivated my skills, ran up to him and snatched the thing from his hand.
“Hello, Sir Flavio. Nice trinket y-you’ve got here.”
I terribly acted as if I was mischievous. My voice was probably shaking. I hope that wouldn’t ruin my act.
“No! My precious Eldenex! Who are you?!”
He was clearly distraught. He must truly love this thing. Seems like he didn’t notice my weak voice.
“Sir Flavio, that does not matter. What d-does matter is what I will do with it unless you help me.”
“What? You wouldn’t dare hurt Eldenex!”
“…Y-yes. Yes, I would.”
I awkwardly mimicked myself “dropping” poor little Eldenex in a cutesy fashion. That felt weird, but isn’t that something those trickster types usually do? His face filled with fear.
“Okay, okay, fine! I’ll help you. But you have to promise to keep Eldenex safe, please.”
“N-no need to worry, Sir Flavio, I have it secured. So, please tell you everything you know about this vault.”
And yes, I was taking advantage of him, as much as I hated to do so. He, for sure, knew more of the vault than I did. Flavio might know a way to search for a certain item, as well as tricks or shortcuts to travel to certain places in this maze. It was my best choice right now.
Flavio told me everything he knew. He said that there were countless passages, and that there was said to be 10 floors of the entire thing. It supposedly took up most of the underground of Castle Grawden. It was so big that it was near impossible to find the thing you wanted unless you knew where it was. This proved to be useful information, but it was disheartening. My gear could be anywhere here. Desperate, I pestered him some more.
“Is there no way to know the location of whatever it is you need to find? Is there a map, or some sort of division depending on the type of treasure? Maybe codes on the walls? Those markings looked strange when we walked by. Or do these people at the Church place whatever they want wherever they feel like it?! Why is this place so huge?!”
I took some breaths. I was on edge. The yelling was unnecessary.
“Uh, Miss Thief…”
“Sorry, that was uncalled for…”
“Oh, uh, it’s not that, but if I could just direct your attention to behind your current position…”
I looked backwards, and my gaze reached a giant golden snake. It was about the size of a Basilisk. Its red eyes met mine and it hissed right into my face.
“S-sir Flavio, do you perhaps have the ability to run?”
“Uh, y-yes, Miss Thief…”
“Shall we run then?”
I slowly returned Flavio’s precious artifact to its position, and then we bolted. The snake hissed again and immediately started slithering behind us. What the heck was that thing? Was it some sort of guardian? I’ve never seen that monster before. Why does the church have a monster in its own castle?!
I was running alongside Flavio, but he started to slow down. It’s only natural he doesn’t have enough stamina for this thing. He’s an aging man after all, and I trained all month. With nothing else to do, I momentarily slowed down and picked him up in a princess carry. It was not practical at all. He was taller and bigger than me, and I had to channel mana into my arms to support the weight. I activated [Light Feet] and sped up.
“Gyah! Miss Thief, what are you doing?!”
“I’m saving your life! Tell me the directions to get away from here!”
“Fine! Listen carefully!”
We went all different directions, the snake snapping its fangs at me from behind. For such a huge thing, it was surprisingly fast.
“Miss Thief, stop near those X marks and knock three times!”
I did as Flavio commanded. The wall opened up into a small passage, and I dashed inside, Flavio still in my arms. The wall closed behind us, and I could hear the thump as the snake banged its head into the stone.
It knocked its body against the wall a few times before giving up and slithering away. I put Flavio down and sank to the floor. We both panted heavily.
“Sir Flavio *pant* what was that thing? Why is it down here?”
“*pant* Miss Thief, I have no idea. I’ve only heard rumors of monsters appearing if you hold a treasure for too long. I never believed them, *pant* but I guess they were true.
“To go so far…”
I was exhausted, this expedition took some unexpected turns. My arms felt sore, and that would be a problem for tonight, but I tried to ignore that.
“At least my dear Eldenex is safe.”
Again, he cares about that artifact. I’m really curious about his story regarding that, but I’m hesitant to ask the question. I ultimately decided that I could listen to his ramblings while I rested.
“Say, Sir Flavio, why do you love that piece of metal so much?”
“Ohoho, Miss Thief, Eldenex is no piece of metal! It is a treasure, an ancient artifact that I discovered when I was an adventurer! I was with Maria and my party, and we were in the deepest part of Moldabor’s Second Dungeon, when--“
I had already started to tune out as he started his story. There was something about a Troll Chieftain and a romantic kiss upon an altar with a waterfall in the background or something like that. Good for you Flavio, it seems like you had a fulfilling life when you were younger, though it was a bit pitiful to see him stick so much to an article of his past. It seems like he missed those days.
“Well, Sir Flavio, that was quite an amazing story…”
“It was, wasn’t it? Truly my greatest tale!”
“…Right. But we should probably continue with our previous encounter.”
“…Oh. You were threatening me, weren’t you?”
I brandished my sword and pointed it at Flavio.
“Sir Flavio, please forgive me, but could you please cooperate?”
I got Flavio to answer some of the questions I had yelled at him earlier. According to him, there was a room with a magical device that would reveal the location of the item one was looking for if one knew its magical properties. This was great news for me. I had crafted my previous gear with a certain blacksmith, and I had watched most of the process. I knew all the properties it contained.
After walking around a while, we arrived at the room. It was another circular one, but it built from a dull grey stone. In the center laid a small table with a bright blue orb in the center.
“Miss Thief, allow me to present the Magilocator! If you just put your hand on it and speak the properties of what you’re looking for, then it will bring up a map to show you its location.”
I followed his instructions. I closed my eyes and visualized my old self, and how I had looked in the mirror. Dark grey pants. Black tunic. Black, hooded cloak that reached only the wrists. Small metal chest plate that stopped right above my abdomen. Knee and elbow armor. A brown leather belt with two handles for my twin daggers. A grey sheath with a certain blacksmith’s mark and that special shortsword to match it. It was quite similar to my current equipment. I thought of the materials that I worked so hard to get, and how they were used in that gear. I remembered the magic used in the process. Then I thought of the name of the set. I never understood that name. That certain blacksmith refused to tell me what it meant. And I called all of this out.
When I opened my eyes again, the blue orb was shining brilliantly, and above it was a hologram displaying markings and a map. In the top left corner, there was a blue dot pulsing. I assume that’s where my gear is. I turned to Flavio and waved my shortsword.
“Sir Flavio, if you could?”
“Miss Thief, you’re really running me ragged, aren’t you?”
“Please forgive me.”
We walked through many, many hallways. My head would spin trying to figure out where we were. Luckily Flavio had written a map and was expertly navigating us to our destination. He attempted to make some small talk while we were walking.
“Miss Thief, I wonder, why are you doing this?”
“Certain circumstances led to me needing a certain treasure. Sir Flavio, you shouldn’t care about it.”
“But I’m curious. Is it as beautiful as Eldenex?”
“No. I need it for its function.”
“Oho? What will you be doing that requires a treasure from here?”
“You don’t need to know that.”
“You’re quite reserved, aren’t you? You dare not show me your face under that hood, and I can’t learn a thing about you.”
“…Sir Flavio, you realize that if I were to do that, I would fail at one of the most important parts of being a thief, right?”
“…I suppose that would be the case, yes.”
I wonder why Flavio was so interested in a goon like me. Perhaps he just wanted a way to pass the time, but his pestering was starting to get annoying. I realize that I asked him about this past, and he did answer with a story, even if I had ignored most of it. I guess I’ll give him a little something.
“Sir Flavio, the reason why I want to get this treasure is because it will help me go home. That’s all I’m saying.”
“Interesting. I wonder what country you live in…”
We had finally arrived in a small square room filled with sets of armor and other gear. I found my stuff against one of the walls. I immediately rushed up to it. It was completely unscathed, and I was surprised at that fact. I was sure someone was going to either damage or wear it during that time. Smiling, I decided to put it on.
“Sir Flavio, I’m going to put you in timeout.”
“Pardon? What is timeout?”
Ah, I guess he wouldn’t know what that is.
“Stand facing the fall and stare at it until I tell you to stop.”
I held my shortsword towards him.
I undressed and put on my old gear. I had to tighten the belt around my waist more than usual, as my current body was smaller. I rolled up the bottom of the pants so I wouldn’t trip and did the same with my sleeves on my tunic. I acquired my weapons and placed them in their sheaths. I switched my boots and I put on my hood last, fitting in the long hair I currently had inside like I had before. As much as I wasn’t satisfied with this body, and as baggy as my current attire was, I felt the desire to look in a mirror. Perhaps I just wanted to see my gear on me again, even if it wasn’t truly me.
Flavio shuffled in his corner of the room.
“Miss Thief, are you finished?”
“…Yes. You are free to move.”
Flavio eyed me up and down.
“A bit big, but it somehow suits you. If you weren’t a thief, I would offer to tailor it to your sizes.”
“It wasn’t my choice for it to be like this.”
“Always so vague…”
“…So, you’re a tailor?”
“Indeed, I am, Miss Thief! My work is known far and wide, all across Entrendei! The nobles love me!”
“…And do you do battle gear? Like tunics, or magical robes?”
“Well, no. No, I don’t.”
“Then there’s no point in offering me anything.”
“I guess you’re right.”
I looked to the gear I had donned earlier. How would I carry all this out? Scrambling though the room, I found a sizable backpack and stuffed everything I had in there. I fastened it to myself and we went on our way.
Flavio started to lead me back to the entrance. It was going fine, but we didn’t engage in any small talk this time. Something I was thankful for. It allowed me to think about a way to keep him quiet after this entire ordeal was over. I could bribe him, but he seemed pretty well off. Especially since he was housing inside Castle Grawden. I couldn’t threaten him with continued violence, because that was just wrong, and I had no way of performing that anyway. Finally, an idea clicked with me. He mentioned he was a tailor. Perhaps I could commission him to tailor a dress. Sure, I would be leaving this world today anyway, but I decided to mention it just to be sure he would stay silent.
“Sir Flavio, I’ll offer you a deal.”
“What are you trying to pull now?”
“It’s simple. If you never speak a word about me or today’s events, I’ll commission you to make a dress for me. An expensively beautiful one at that. Unless, you want a more dangerous alternative.”
“…Well, well, well, Miss Thief, if you wanted a dress you should’ve asked sooner! I’ll make sure to craft one that fits you perfectly!”
Flavio’s eyes were shining as he looked at me. He took that bait faster than I thought he would, but it worked in my favor. He started brainstorming ideas out loud, and to himself.
“Ohoho, it will be long, but not too long. Just above the ankles, and with silver gems lining the hem of it. Perhaps slight ruffles on the sides at the hips. Oh, and should it be silver or black, or both? Maybe it should have a holy theme, she does have silver hair after all, just like a patron of the goddess. Or could the dress have Hydrabrog flowers to bring out her mysterious and reserved aura? It’s like she’s a sweet poison. She’ll steal the hearts of the men around her like the thief she is. I wonder what color her eyes are. I could make those accents in the dress and then—"
“Sir Flavio, I can hear everything you’re saying.”
“Oh, my bad, Miss Thief, that’s a bad habit of mine. I tend to get passionate about these types of topics.”
“Don’t worry about it. Though, I do have some questions on what you were saying. Particularly, you mentioned my hair…”
What the heck? What terribly timed inconvenience is interrupting my questioning?
Another giant, golden monster had broken through a wall. This time in particular, it was a crab. It started forming at the mouth and began to click its pincers.
I guess my gear now counted as a treasure. And I was wearing that treasure for quite a bit. I guess that means that crab was chirping and foaming and clicking at me. It started angrily scuttling towards us.
“Sir Flavio, let me carry you!”
“Again?! I can run for myself--”
“Yes! Come here! Tell me where to go!”
I grabbed him and started running.
One chase sequence later, we were at the entrance to the vault, the crab lost to the maze. I looked at Flavio.
“We managed to escape.”
He was staring at me with a curious expression.
“What? Did the crab get to me or something?”
“…I was simply studying your face, Miss Thief. Your hood flew off while running, so I took the opportunity.”
Damn! I didn’t even notice! I quickly covered myself again.
“Erase that f-face from your mind.”
“How else am I supposed to remember a customer if not by their face?”
“…J-just keep it to yourself.”
“I will if you promise to show the world your face once in my dress.”
It was annoying getting flustered over such a rookie mistake. Fortunately, our interactions would end soon.
“Well, despite my methods, I must say thank you, Sir Flavio. All you need to do now is to walk out as normal, and I’ll follow behind. No one will see me if you act like your usual self.”
“You’re welcome, even if I was forced to help, I at least obtained a beautifully stunning customer to tailor for.”
Please don’t call me that, Flavio. I appreciate that you’re going with the flow, but please don’t call me that. I tugged on my hood. The mention of my appearance reminded me about the question I was going to ask earlier.
“Oh, wait. You said something earlier about my hair, Sir Flavio. Why does it matter that it is silver?”
“Well, Miss Thief, back before I was even born, the goddess that the Church worships supposedly sent down patrons, all of which had silver hair, much like your own. They essentially had a part of her power and served to her will.”
That is something I did not know. Then again, I was in Gresia for only a small time in the grand scheme of things. Hopefully this hair didn’t lead to any complications.
I addressed Flavio and commanded him to walk. I activated [Cat’s Paws] and [Illusionary Presence] once more. Flavio opened the doors.
“Hello esteemed gentleman! My dear Edward and Johnson I have returned once more!”
“Sir Flavio, thank the goddess, we were getting worried.”
“Worried, you say?”
“Yes. You were down there much longer than usual.”
“Ah, that’s nothing to worry about gentleman. I was simply admiring my treasure a bit more than usual. Though I fear Maria will chew me out. It seems I might be late for teatime. Farewell gentlemen.”
“Yes, good luck.”
Flavio started to walk away, and I followed carefully. A distance away, he said to me in a low voice.
“I don’t know what your circumstances are Miss Hero, but I wish you luck. Be assured, I will keep my mouth shut regarding today.”
So, he did know. I suppose he was at the dinner earlier this month. I’m surprised he recognized me. Was it this stupid silver hair? It made me stick out too much. I tried washing out the assumed dye that was in it, but it never came out. There was no way it was natural. It was quite the anomaly.
“…Thank you. Enjoy your teatime.”
I snuck away. Flavio was nice enough, but he talked a bit too much for me. I was mentally exhausted from all that talking.
We were down there for a good chunk of the day and it was nearing the later parts of the afternoon. Although tonight was when the Second Batch was departing, I still had work to do. I needed to create a window of opportunity for me to escape from the march away from the castle. Naturally, it would create chaos, but I wouldn’t harm anyone.
During my month of training I had created a new skill called [Mana Bombs]. If I directed mana to my hands and released it slowly, it would crystallize into a spherical shape. The compressed mana would explode on my will. I had nearly blown my head off a few times when experimenting with this. As an alternative, I developed [Mana Smoke Bombs]. They would still have the sound of an explosion, along with the smoke, but had no destructive power. My plan was to place these bombs at key places around Castle Grawden in order to cause panic. I would go to Xenomyr’s quarters during that.
I spent the rest of the afternoon placing them in all different places. Near the gate, the barracks, some halls, and a couple of towers. No one noticed them, or me. I was on top of a tower placing the last few when I noticed the sun setting. I could feel my heart beating. My hands were shaking a bit. It was all or nothing. I made my way to the hall where we would gather.
After waiting, I steeled myself as Xenomyr presented himself before us.