Dark clouds were rolling, thunder roaring, and raindrops as big as peas falling from the sky. Tonight, the Beinz area was having a thunderstorm—a storm that had been brewing over a night.
Perhaps Beinz was near to the relic site—Dragonspine Ridgge, or maybe it was because of the influence from the mysterious Beinz Blood Lake, the weather in the area had been always extreme. Sometimes it was storm. Sometimes it snowed in the summer. Sometimes there was bolt from the blue which resembled the steppe weather. People in the town had gotten use to them. Residents began to seal their doors and windows and stayed indoor. Magic towers across the town had been activated to lessen the effect of the thunderstorm and to prevent buildings from getting struck by lightning. It was during this thunderstorm that the head of the knights of the kingdom, Marshal Ophra, came to visit.
"I hope I'm not bothering you." Ophra was in full armour just like she had always been. "I have something need to talk to you. About the itinerary tomorrow."
Chilling wind rushed into the king's house through the opened entrance, but it hadn't a single drop of rain got blown inside. Ophra stood right at the doorway. The rain was like circumventing her, the space within two-metre radius of her became a vacuum devoid of rain. Standing behind Ophra was a ordinary looking, well-built elderly man who might be the attendant of the lady marshal.
"No, that's OK, please come in." Hao Ren ushered Ophra into the reception hall. He was just thinking to see her tomorrow and now she had come instead. What a coincidence!
Lily was lying on the long couch beside the doorway. Awokened by the chilling wind, she jumped to her feet as she saw visitors and her tail hit the door inadvertently. "Eww—it's freaking cold..."
Vivian gave the husky a sideways look while knitting her scarf. "Are you worthy of your own bloodline? Where's the glorious achievement of your ancestors' dominance in the Arctic Circle?"
Feeling curious at Lily's ears and tail, the elderly man beside Ophra couldn't help but look at her, but he didn't say a word.
Hao Ren invited Ophra to the couch. The elderly man followed Ophra and sat down beside her matter-of-coursely. Hao Ren was half-surprised. Probably he had misjudged the identity of this elderly man, he might be an important figure of the Knights of The Kingdom but happened to be in plain cloth. But that didn't matter much to him. He served the two of them hot tea. "So what's up?" he asked.
Ophra's hand shook a bit inadvertently. It was the first time someone had greeted her since she became the marshal of the kingdom a few hundred years ago. She couldn't help but recalled some young man had talked to her in the same tone of voice; a hot-blooded, young human chap, wearing an elite attire but squatting on the bench in a bar chatting up to her. "I've something to talk to you..."
Ophra shook her head, putting the odd thought aside. Then she said, "Tomorrow, we're going to escort the four ascetics to the royal city. Considering the special nature of this mission, and to prevent the cults from sabotaging, we need your cooperation..."
Hao Ren waved his hand. "Wait for second. I've something to tell you too. And I guess after your hear it you're gonna change your plan—it's about the cults."
There as a subtle changes in Ophra's expression. She slightly leaned forward, her light body armours making scraping sound. "Cult?"
"Yes. Cult. They performed evil ritual and human sacrifice, summoned monsters from the otherworld, and infiltrated the Knights of the Kingdom and the church." Hao Ren divulged everything he knew, without fear or favour. He wasn't afraid of any consequences. "Besides, nearby the blood lake..."
Spending a long ten minutes or so, without holding back anything, Hao Ren told it all as if telling those freightening intel was the right thing to do. Ophra was stunned. Not even epic hero could remain composed when bombarded with such explosive intel. When Hao Ren finally finished, she pressed her hand on the tea table and said respectfully, "Is what you said true? Do you have proof?"
Hao Ren took out a sack and opened it up in front of Ophra. "The stuff inside the bottle is the remains of the cults. This is the heraldry of the knight of the kingdom, clothing of the cleric, daggers used in their ceremony, corporate culture brochure, blood sample on the altar. And this is the tissue sample of the tentacle which has been confirmed to be identical to the tree bark in the Gnarled Grove. This is the cooking recipe of Vivian...why is it even here?"
Vivian quickly scurried over and took the recipe away. "No wonder I couldn't locate it. I misplaced it while sorting things out last night. "
Ophra looking at the stuff, her jaw almost dropped to the floor. "So it's real..." Then she looked at Hao Ren, strangely. "That means you guys were out there investigating yesterday? This wasn't something ordinary mecernaries would do on their own accord. Even the spies of the kingdom couldn't accomplish this."
Hao Ren spread out his hand and said braggingly, "Yes, we have been investigating since last night. We have been very interested in the phenomena around Beinz Blood Lake from the beginning. As for the reason of doing so... would you believe me if I tell you it my academic passion?"
"What if I don't buy it?"
"Then I'll make another up."
"I'm not kidding." Hao Ren's face turned serious. "I can certainly tell you that we are not a threat to The Kingdom of Holletta. We sincerely want to solve the problem out of our own free will. And the intel is solid. But it's kind of hard to explain why we do it. We are bona fide. So it's okay if you question our sincerity, after all you're the marshal of the kingdom. So you're welcomed to vet us."
This was the narrative Hao Ren had decided on last night. In fact it wasn't a planned narrative at all. After all he had nothing to lose; he was the commissioner of the empire who could come and go without a trace.
And not to mention his identity here was also fake...
Just that he felt sorry for Becky. He glanced at Becky who was lying near the window with Lily and yawning. The maiden was an authentic citizen of The Plane of Dreams. But considering the maiden could only follow him around for the rest of her life, and also the fact that Becky had already accepted her fate, he couldn't do anything more.
Ophra became more confused about this unknown mercenary group of Hao Ren. It was true that she came here not just to discuss with them about the itinerary tommorrow, but also because she had received report earlier that a group of mercenaries had disppeared from the town last night, she was keen to investigate what was going on. She believed she could find out their whereabouts last night with her special ability. But before she could say anything, this man before him already confided everything to her like a guilty child.
No. He wasn't feeling guilty. He simply didn't give a hoot.
"If this is true, then the orb must be delivered back to the royal city as soon as possible." Ophra murmured. "Since the cults have already infiltrated us, the orb isn't safe here. But first I must make sure the intel you provide is true."
Hao Ren took out a piece of paper and drew something on it. Then he said, "Of course. The cavern where the cults performed their ritual is still there. I've drawn a map. You can send your men to scout it out. But be quick. Probably there are still other cults who might want to destroy the evidence."
Ophra took the map in her hand and read solemnly before stared back at Hao Ren. "Who was the one scouted the cavern last night? We need a guide."
Hao Ren's brow twitched. "You don't trust me? You think it's a trap?"
"No." Ophra waved the map in her hand. "Your drawing is too simply ugly to understand."
Hao Ren: "....."
"All right. I'll be your guide." Nangong Wuyue got to her feet, volunteering. "I know the way."
Ophra nodded. She was about to say something but a loud thunder interrupted her.
She immediately looked up towards a direction. Hao Ren didn't know what to make of her reaction, so he waited. Then thunderous sound came from afar.
It sounded like thunder but the the tone was much lower and rolling incessantly. Obviously thunder didn't sound like that.
Lily's tail puffed up. She poked her head out of the window and saw a light column rose from where Beinz Blood Lake was at, and the pressing sound of the bell was heard from the bell tower of Leyton!