Eye of Arcana's Reward
It was a name familiar to Leguna. In fact, it was burned deep into his memory. When he'd been eavesdropping on Bjord during an odd-job assignment not long ago, he'd overheard that very name. He knew right away that Balor must've had something to do with the sudden orc attack his party had suffered. He had privately asked Soram to get him some information about the man. It was too bad not a single trace of him could be found.
As there was no evidence, Leguna didn't dare to tell Kurdak about Balor. He was afraid he'd do something irrational, since Cyranos's death was a direct result of the attack. It went without saying how deep a bond Kurdak and Cyranos had, it was one that went beyond that of blood brothers.
Wayerliss must know something about the man, since he'd brought up the name.
"Balor is my disciple. My personal one, in fact," said Wayerliss.
"What?!" cried Leguna with shock. Even though he had asked around about Balor, he didn't expect the person who resulted in the death of Cyranos to be the disciple of Wayerliss himself!
"Are you surprised?" Wayerliss asked with a smile, "Then you're in for an even bigger shock. Not only is Balor my disciple, he's also Vera's younger brother, her flesh and blood."
"What in the world's going on? If Balor's Vera's younger brother, he should've been dead," said Leguna with a hoarse voice.
Wayerliss had revealed things too far beyond his imagination. He needed a reasonable explanation to process it all.
"Actually, it isn't as complicated as you think," Wayerliss said, "Seven years ago, Arikos encountered Balor when he was on the way back from carrying out my orders. The kid'd been engaged in a battle with a necromancer."
Leguna's heart skipped a beat as he recalled Vera saying that her brother had died in a necromancer's hands. As she had already escaped, she had assumed there was no way Balor could have survived. It seemed now that Arikos had saved him.
Wayerliss continued, "As he didn't have anything urgent to attend to, Arikos decided to watch how the battle unfolded. Balor fought maniacally and managed to get close to dealing a fatal blow to his opponent quite a few times. But the huge difference in power kept him from going the whole way. Just as the necromancer was about to kill him, Arikos stepped in and stopped it, mainly because the child had awakened an ability during the battle. The wounds he'd dealt to the necromancer carried traces of dark aspect power that devoured what meager amount of life force a necromancer would have. That's right, Balor also has an aspect ability. He is also a shadow dancer."
Another shadow dancer! Started Leguna.
If Balor was a shadow dancer, then what followed would be easy to guess. The necromancer probably had no choice but to release Balor because he couldn't fight Arikos. Arikos recommended Balor to Wayerliss. Given that Wayerliss appreciated Balor's talent, he decided to secretly raise him as his disciple.
"But President, why isn't Balor willing to reunite with Vera? As far as I know, he was the one who conspired with Bjord on a scheme relating to the orcs. What's going on? I don't think I've ever done anything to piss him off. Why does he want to kill me?"
"I knew Annelotte wasn't up to anything good!" Kurdak was pacing about in the inn impatiently. He had rushed back to Snowrock from Icepeak Mountain in four days. He thought he'd see Leguna back to full health and his spritely self again. But not only did he not see the slightest trace of him, even Annelotte had vanished into thin air.
"Kurdak, don't suspect Annie all the time. Even though she's a little mysterious, she hasn't done anything to us she has to feel sorry for so far," consoled Vera.
"Then where do you think the two went? That girl said she was bringing him back to detoxify him, but now they've just vanished! It took us four days to make it back and we've even rested for two days since. Forget detoxification, even if he got poisoned again, he would've had enough time to recover! Moonshadow is definitely plotting to do something with Leguna!" exclaimed Kurdak with a furrowed brow.
He was rather impatient as of late, possibly due to Leguna or the werewolf blood flowing in his veins.
"Maybe the poison Leguna got is special and needs more time? I'm also worried about Ley, but there's no point fussing over it. D'you think Moonshadow would go through all this trouble just to hurt him? That's ridiculous."
"Hmph! You women have lots of hair but little brain. I forgot to tell you something. Ley is no normal person. In fact, he has an incredibly high affinity for darkness… he's a shadow dancer! Someone like him who has one-in-ten-million properties will obviously attract Moonshadow's attention!" shouted Kurdak.
He really didn't understand how Vera didn't have the slightest guard up against Annelotte. She was obviously a dangerous woman.
"Mister Kurdak, your knowledge is indeed vast. You're right, Leguna is a shadow dancer," said Annelotte, who'd appeared in the inn's entrance without anyone noticing.
Her delicate face looked a little pale, her sickly complexion oddly making her look more beautiful than usual, incredibly lovable.
"Annie!" exclaimed Vera.
But before she could say more, Kurdak rushed forward.
"Tell me how Leguna is doing, right now!"
He glared at Annelotte, not in the mood to act gentlemanly.
"Worried about him?"
Annelotte didn't seem the least bit moved and returned Kurdak's stare.
"Naturally. He's my brother. I'll not allow anything bad to happen to him again."
Vera raised her eyes at Kurdak's use of 'again'. It seemed that while he didn't talk about it often, he was still quite hung up on Cyranos's death. She herself still couldn't move on either, having witnessed Cyranos's death struggle.
"He's fine. He just needs some time to recover. I promise," said Annelotte calmly.
"Promise? How would you? Take me to him now, otherwise, your promises don't mean anything," said Kurdak without bothering to keep his tone cordial.
Annelotte didn't get angry, though, she answered with her frozen tone.
"Not possible. Calm down for now. You can see him in two days."
"See him? Do you mean his corpse? Are you guys experimenting on his body? I knew your guild was fixated on the powers of people like him! You definitely did something horrible to him!"
The more Kurdak went on, the more emotional he became. He even gave Annelotte a slight push. While the push was an unintended act of reflex with not much force behind it, Annelotte's body unexpectedly swayed as she fell straight to the ground.
"Kurdak! Calm down! Don't treat Annie like this!" cried Vera as she hurriedly went to help the girl up.
She was a delicate woman and had already noticed how weak the girl appeared when she entered.
Annelotte quietly got up. She didn't reveal even a hint of emotion on her face.
"Kurdak, your emotions are a little too uppity right now. It's best we talk later, I'll take my leave now."
Kurdak realized he'd overstepped his bounds and looked at Annelotte surprised as she turned around.
"Wait, your... your power..."
Annelotte stopped in her tracks.
"I know the gifted are incredibly rare. But Moonshadow hasn't stooped so low to experiment on them yet. And, apart from Leguna, who's a shadow dancer, I am a water swayer. I wonder if this will still some of your doubts."
Annelotte didn't turn back and nobody could see what expression her beautiful face had, if any at all.
"You went too far this time!"
Vera rolled her eyes at the dumbstruck Kurdak and ran after Annelotte. From her point of view as a woman, she really felt he'd gone too far. She wanted to console Annelotte.
"Annie, I hope you don't stay mad. Kurdak's just too worried about Leguna, that's why he..."
Though Vera said that the moment she entered Annelotte's room, she couldn't help but feel troubled when she saw Annelotte's usual expressionless face. That was the most troublesome part of the girl. She never showed her emotions and Vera found it hard to be specific about consoling her.
"Don't worry... Sis... Sis Vera, I'm not angry," Annelotte stammered, "Kurdak's the leader. I'm glad he's someone worried about the lives of his party members."
Hearing the chilling tone with which Annelotte uttered her words, Vera couldn't tell whether she was expressing her real thoughts or being sarcastic. She tried to say something else, but Kurdak barged into the room with a note in his hand.
"Something's going on," said Kurdak without dallying as he handed the note to Vera.
It turned out that when they were in Icepeak Mountain, something happened in Nightsong Forest. The orcs had attacked the gathering spots of Eye of Arcana a number of times in the last couple of days and it no doubt completely enraged the proud and arrogant senior magi. The Eye's elders had decided to unite with the other four great factions to launch an attack on the orcish settlement in the north. They would teach the lowly, ugly lifeforms a lesson they would not soon forget. The four factions pooled their funds for a bounty of five gold coins for every orc ear brought to them.
Regardless of gender or age, each orc ear could be exchanged for five gold coins. This was an incredibly lavish reward in the eyes of many. Even normal folk without impetus could profit from the bounty by slaughtering elderly or young orcs for their ears. For each orc they killed, they would be rewarded ten gold coins. This was three times the monthly income of the average person! Tempted by the lavish bounty, large numbers of human adventurers crossed Nightsong Forest and arrived in the orc territory.
The note in Kurdak's hand was issued by the Union to encourage the strong and reputable mercenaries to join in the fight.
"What do you two think?" asked he.
It seemed he had calmed down completely already.
"We should return to Starfall for a while. We'll head north after you absorb the millennium snowlotus. This is a rare chance to train and get rich at the same time," offered Vera.
"I thought so too, but Leguna..." Kurdak looked at Annelotte wordlessly.
"We should head north. Leguna will be fine. He'll join us at Starfall in a few days."
"I hope so! Very well, let's polish our skills!"
The reason the two were able to come to such a quick decision was the grudge they held on account of Cyranos's death. Annelotte, on the other hand, urgently needed much training to recover her lost power, and the orcish settlement sounded like a decent place to get it.
"When making a decision, the best outcome is making the right one, after that is making the wrong one, but the worst is not making any." ~ Wayerliss Deepshadow
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