“Angels… are born from the fear and desires of mortals,” I said, not sure I was understanding what the Head Priestess was saying.
“Yes,” she nodded. “The old gods are named that way because they were here before the creation of the current world itself. Their nature and plans are on such an unfathomable scale that being exposed to them would destroy any mind. That can also be true of certain angels, the difference being that we unintentionally created them by simply existing in big enough numbers. They are… a manifestation of our thoughts and represent aspects of a mortal’s life.”
She waved toward her flowers.
“For example, it would not be surprising for an angel of Harvest to appear in a place where farming is a central part of Life, or for a bloodthirsty one to suddenly demand sacrifices from the citizens of an unusually violent kingdom. They are ideas and concepts that came to life… Which brings me to the fact that, once again, I am in utter awe at how little you seem to know about things one would assume to be common knowledge.”
My mind lingered on her words, ignoring the last part. I remembered the Nameless Djin mentioning that the Master of Ceremony was one of the last old gods… Did that mean that the members of the Court were all angels? Unless it was an exclusive club, it was very possible that Umion Ji herself was present during the process of my reincarnation.
Did that make the Djin an angel? The idea didn’t seem fitting, but if correct, what was he an angel of? Why was he now nameless?
“Was Umion Ji created by the people of this shard?” I asked Royin.
“Our angel is one of the original ones. She predates the End of the World and has been supporting us since. Sadly, her birthplace has been claimed by the fog, but the compassion she represents is present in all of us. Angels are present wherever they are worshiped, so it is not surprising for those that embody universal concepts to have temples in many different shards.”
It was an interesting subject, but not one that seemed to be of any relevance to the current discussion.
“In any case, after I did what it told me, the Keeper of Secret gave me a ring, and I would like to know how much it is worth.”
That seemed to catch Ardos’ attention.
“A ring?” he said with a frown. “What kind of ring?”
“A ring of Bestowal,” I said as I summoned it from my inventory. “Does that ring any bell?”
What I said first made him chuckle, but his face soon got serious when he realized I wasn’t laughing.
“Can I… Can I see it?” he managed to say.
I threw the ring and he caught it.
“Edward,” Royin said after glancing at her partner who was lost in studying the item, “I am assuming that you know what a ring of Bestowal is?”
“… An item that allows gifting a class to someone else?” I tentatively said. “This one’s description says ‘single use’, but even if it only can be used once it should be worth a lot, right?”
“Edward. While those rings are linked to their users as long as they are alive, “Single use” means that they will only ever carry the class they have originally been given… not that only one person can use them.”
“So… you mean that the user can be killed for it? I understand that it carries a risk, but as long as they keep quiet about they got their class I don’t see where’s the problem… I’m trying to sell it, so that doesn’t have anything to do with me anyway.”
I had seen Ardos shocked before but his current behavior was affecting Roying, who I wasn’t used to see lose her composure.
“Items with the Bestowal skill are artifacts of the Era of Glory,” she explained. “Nowadays, they are used by the oldest families to pass on their most powerful abilities to the next generations. They cannot be found or bought. They are… They are priceless. If it is-
“It is genuine,” Ardos said with a tired voice. He put the ring on the desk and covered his face with a hand as if a sudden migraine had taken hold of him.
Royin looked at him, “Are you sure?”
“It is identical to the late king’s,” he said.
Royin blinked, then after a moment of hesitation she took the ring and put it in front of me.
“Put it back in your inventory,” she said.
I took the item and studied it instead, waiting for one of them to say something. It could have passed for a regular silver ring, if not for the shifting symbols that moved in the black band that went through its middle.
But after a while, the silence of the room was still left imperturbable and I started to think they were going a bit too far with the theatrics.
“Alright, come on now,” I said. “It’s a rare item, so what? That doesn’t warrant this kind of reaction.”
“Well,” Royin started, “first of all, this makes your claim that there is a weakened old god in the Undermine actually believable.”
“Oh, so you didn’t believe me.”
“No. We believed you thought you had seen one… but what you showed us changed that.”
Well, it had seemed strange for her to start a theology lesson right after hearing what I had to say.
“Good to know I now have your full attention,” I said. “But let’s get back to business. How can I sell it and how much would it be worth?”
They exchanged a grave look.
“It has never been used before,” Royin said in a whisper. “Never. Saying that it is priceless was not an exaggeration. Classes are everything, Edward, but even with the best grooming, no one can guarantee which class someone will have. Worse, people with the same class rarely have the same skill trees, and same skill trees still do not mean identical results. For the most powerful beings of this world… the ability to perfectly duplicate their most powerful skills would destroy the balance of the Realm.”
“Not only will they all be interested,” Ardos said, “But they will also want to know where it came from… Which bring us back to how no one… no one, can learn about what is in the Undermine. The fog will soon take this land, and then we should not have to worry about it anymore.”
“Wait a minute,” I said. “So your only argument for why I shouldn’t sell it is the balance of the world? Because if the fog is coming anyway-”
“We are talking about people with the power to prevent it from happening if they want it hard enough,” Royin interrupted. “All it would require is someone who made a pact with a totem spirit to become the lord of the Shard. I doubt none of them has a mean to make that happen.”
This time, it was my turn to become silent. Considering the origin of all my problems was my bad karma, being the cause of a world war didn’t seem like something I could afford.
It’s still a good thing to know that I do not need to worry about what’s under our feet, I thought as I finally put the ring away.
“Can’t sell the ring, got it,” I said.
“What do you intend to do with it?” Royin asked.
“I’ll figure it out,” I shrugged.
She gave a worried glance to Ardos, but he shook his head. So she just sighed and raised her hands in defeat, “Very well.”
“We spent more time than I wanted on this,” I said. “What I wanted to talk about is Genoneva.”
Ardos frowned while Royin’s neutral expression didn’t waver in the slightest. Which made me think that she was the one who with the biggest interest in the subject.
“She had a target on my back and probably still have,” I said. “The only thing keeping her at bay is Bokwen and his group.”
“He told me he would protect you from her,” Ardos said to my surprise. “I knew he could be trusted, but I still fail to understand why he would bother.”
Oh? So the bear never really intended to leave me to face Genoneva?
“He wants my help so that he can save those from his groups that are not restricted from Nashran,” I explained. “I said yes because I didn’t really have a choice, but I also told him that instead of having me take part in a duel, we could simply include them in my “favor” to you.”
They looked at each other.
“Tell me that it’s possible,” I added, not sure what I would do if their answer was that it wasn’t.
“It should be,” Ardos said. “The Red Cross does not have that many members. It’s a good thing that you thought about it.”
“Good,” I said with a sigh of relief. “Now, can you tell me how exactly you plan to do it… and why do we need you to become a delver beforehand?”
Not that I had anything against his dream, but we could still fail to clear the dungeon. I had nothing against acting as a stand-in if it meant staying alive.
“The only… ‘people’ able to safely navigate the fog are those with the ‘charon’ class,” Ardos said. “The regular way to contact one of them is through a guild terminal, which only delvers can use.”
“That’s something I should be able to do,” I said.
“Yes, the issue is the fact that only one charon contacted that way can travel to, and from, a lordless shard at a time,” Royin said. “Shards such as ours are notorious for being lawless areas and that rule is meant to be the charon’s insurance. They will only answer to their employer, but if anything happens to them the shard will effectively be under embargo.”
… And Genoneva is the one who contacted them first. That’s why she’s able to offer spots out of here in a lottery. She’s got all of us by the balls.
They weren’t kidding when they said that she was far from stupid, even if she was insane. But obviously, Ardos had a solution.
“Fortunately,” he continued, “powerful lords and kingdoms often have private charons. As a former high ranked member of a shard that had both, I received a mark granting me the right to use the services of one of the ferrymen.”
He raised his right arm and a golden light appeared over his fur. It was a symbol representing a lion.
“But even with this mark, I still do not meet the main requirement to summon a charon…”
“Being a delver,” I finished.
Alright, that made sense.
Not that it didn’t raise new questions, notably what kind of army Ardos worked for and why was he still able to use that mark after leaving many years ago. But considering they had avoided asking me questions about my own past, I didn’t feel like I was allowed to be nosy.
But that didn’t mean that they couldn’t clarify a few things for me.
“I’m assuming that shard doesn’t have an unlimited amount of ferrymen,” I said. “How can you be sure that they are available?”
“We still communicate with some of the people we left behind,” Royin said. “They have assured us that the charons were still there and not planning to travel in the near future. Of course that could change at any moment, which is why we need to make haste.”
I frowned, “Wait, you’re communicating with them? How does that work?”
With a smile, she laid back on her chair and made a wide gesture presenting her surroundings, “Our angel is compassion, sympathy. It should not be surprising that her miracles allow us to connect with others, no matter the distance.”
I leaned forward.
“Did you… Did you become a priestess of Umion Ji just so that you could talk over great distances?”
She just kept smiling instead of giving me an answer, and I realized my question might have crossed the “nosy” line.
“Nevermind then,” I said with a hand wave.
“We should focus on getting ready for the dungeon,” Ardos said. “It is true that you got a lot stronger, but it would improve our chance of success if we could get you at a point at which you will be able to handle yourself in there.”
I frowned, “What do you mean ‘we’? You haven’t been helping.”
“That is a valid criticism,” he said with a sigh. “I should be more involved with your growth, but the reality is that I also need to prepare myself. Me being stronger than I was when I first entered that dungeon will be irrelevant, as its difficulty will also rise. A certain ‘edge’ will be needed and… I have to admit that I might have lost some of the fire I had back then.”
Royin grabbed his arm and he gave her a smile.
“I see,” I said. “I should be fine anyway. I’m planning to go hunting next.”
Royin raised a brow.
“Hunting? Oh, could it be that you are planning to go with Lima? I have seen the two of you together.”
I didn’t like the way she had said “together”, but guessed I was just reading too much into it.
“I haven’t talked to her about it yet, but yes. That’s the plan.”
“That is perfect,” she said. “The warriors she hunts with are veterans. You would be hard-pressed to find a safer party to fight with.”
“That is good to know.”
Seems like I am done here.
It was fortunate that the incident with Ormidillio hadn’t started a chain of events that would have made my stay in the temple more complicated. If putting more efforts into avoiding fights was all that was required of me, I was fairly confident that I would be fine.
That day had been a long one. From fending off mind-controlling creatures to disciplining unruly kids, without forgetting all the politics in between.
I was ready to skip dinner and go to bed.
“Very well,” started Royin, “I think that everything has-”
Someone knocked at the door, in a much more composed manner than last time. For some reason, I had a bad feeling about it.
“Yes?” Royin called.
The door was opened, revealing a younger version of Maboru. Same height as her mother, but with the flaming red hair cut short.
In a different world, she probably would have been chewing gum, I mused, before realizing that I had no idea whether gum existed in this world or not.
“I was sent by Bokwen,” she said with an expression and a tone that couldn’t have made her boredom any clearer. “I’m lookin’ for a guy named Edward.”
I managed to contain my groan.
“I’m here to take you to the bar. The elders made their decision.”