Chapter 3: Ghost
"Pardon my coming here presumptuously. But if the news from the Sunset Temple... If the information is reliable…" The right hand of the grey-haired middle-aged noble trembled slightly. He held his left chest and bowed deeply.
"Please allow me to personally settle this matter for you."
"You are quite well informed, old friend."
"It is not yet confirmed but that Lamp in the Sunset Temple has lit. Looks like it is quite close by."
Beside the blazing fire, a robust figure lowered his right hand near his chin and somberly said, "I have already dispatched Yodel. He is better than Aida at being inconspicuous"
"You know how important this information is. Even Liscia immediately sealed off the altar in the name of the oracle. That is why I cannot risk unnecessary exposure. I would only dispatch you in secret after there is absolute confirmation."
"Of course, of course." The gray-haired middle-aged noble concealed his excitement with difficulty. "If that time comes, I will wholeheartedly serve you."
The robust figure sighed. "I should be more excited than you when I heard this news.
"But I don't know why. I am feeling very calm."
Rick did not know how he ended up returning to the headquarters of the Brotherhood.
The cold feeling at his neck was still there.
When he saw the Black Street headquarters, the two elite guards were playing knife games at the entrance. When he reached just outside the building, some shadowy figures were on guard, keeping watch. He entered the building and saw Powerhouse Morris behind the large iron table, examining the account books, and Felicia who had a disgusted expression (her proposal to raise the expenses of the brothel was rejected). He finally felt relieved. Even the Assassin Layork who had always been on bad terms with him seemed amiable sitting at the dining table in the candlelight.
Without noticing, the cold feeling at his neck disappeared as though it was never there.
Even Rick wondered if he had been too nervous.
He talked to Morris who was in charge of human trafficking that he suspected someone had been following him. Layork laughed and spat out a mouthful of wine. It extinguished the flames from the candle on the table. Felicia gave a huge yawn and tightened her large bosom. The look in her eyes became even more despicable.
Morris noticed Rick's cold sweat and weird look. He then patted Rick's shoulder. He told Rick not to overwork and watch less of Dark Night Temple's dramas. Rick was also told to wait for Doctor Ramon to give him some calming prescriptions when he returned from his call.
Rick knew it was difficult for others to believe in his special ability, let alone an Assassin who had followed him from the Abandoned Houses to Black Street. This person had followed him for an entire kilometer and remained unseen as well as not taking any action. However, Rick subconsciously believed that this person was real.
After he returned to his room and lay down, he recalled the events in the tailing encounter that night. Even though he was usually very paranoid he could not help but think to himself: 'Was I really too nervous?'
Rick calmed down again and tried to use his ability again. Everything was fine. The back of his neck felt comfortable.
'Alright. I was probably paranoid.'
But suddenly, the hair-raising chill in the neck struck again!
'I can't sleep anymore!'
Rick suddenly jumped out of bed.
He pulled out a box from under the bed. Inside the box was a Siegel 6 Mystic Gun that needed to be carried with both hands. Feeling nervous, he stuck to the walls and carefully walked out to the hallway and listened carefully.
The hallway was full of lamps using Eternal Oil that would never extinguish. The hallway was very brightly lit but there was still nobody around. At a distance, a sentry on duty just came out of the toilet and was walking back. As though scratching at an itch, he pulled the crotch of his leather armor as he walked past Rick.
At the end of the hallways, Layork and Felicia shouted their licentious cries as usual.
"Damn. May this shameless couple break his penis after using too much force." Rick cursed loudly.
The Brotherhood member from earlier had the same feeling. He turned around and nodded to Rick. Their eyes locked as a sense of understanding appeared between the two.
Rick then saw the member scratch the crotch of his armor painfully. Meanwhile, the other party looked at him trying very hard to carry the Mystic Gun and leaning against the wall.
Both of them turned around awkwardly and went back to their original locations.
Rick rubbed the back of his neck.
'Shit. This ability must not be working properly.'
If a skilled elite of the enemy could sneak into the Brotherhood HQ undetected, holding the Mystic Gun would be pointless. Powerhouse Morris' ability would also be useless.
'Time to sleep!'
Thales' back injuries looked bad but it was not serious. This was because he was able to stand and walk again by the third day.
Yes, a famous person's attributes would be heavenly gifted. While lining up, Thales sighed as he looked at the Abandoned Houses with broken walls. He then received the rye bread and wild herbs from the thug Pierson and started to eat it.
He had unfortunately been born in such a place.
"By your side is a sharp branch. You must be the one who cut my hand!"
"It is not me! My hand was also hurt last night!"
"All of us had our hands hurt! It must be the people from the eighth house! They envy our gains from yesterday."
"So, it was them! We from the fourteenth house were also injured at night! They do not want us to go out and pickpocket!"
Thales yawned as he lazily listened to the beggars from the other houses. The argument developed into a fight. Beside these beggars was a crowd cheering. This happened until the thugs stopped them. Thales sighed as he swallowed the last mouthful of the awful food, then clapped his hands as he called out to the beggars from the sixth house.
"Time to work."
That day was Tuesday. The sixth house's begging went smoothly. For more business, they went near the sentry post, which was located at Western City Gate.
The recent week seemed to be the celebration of the Sunset God. However, there was a rumor that there was an oracle command to seal off the altar. This led to many believers entering the city from the west that week. They climbed the city walls and prayed to the setting sun as atonement for not being able to pray to the Sunset Goddess' local representative.
Before the guards' angry glares graduated to physical obstacles, Thales had successfully stolen a Luminous Moon deity statue made of black wood from a street vendor with the help of Coria and Ryan. The street vendor had paid too much attention to his wallet ("Go away bastards!"). So, when Ryan and Coria were busy haggling with him for some stuff, Thales stretched out his hand and took the package behind him.
The market price of the Luminous Moon deity statue was at least fifty coppers. Naturally, the statue should not see the light of day and could only be sold through the Brotherhood channel. The veterans in the Brotherhood would know that they were just beggars and thieves. They would then push down the buying price, and if it were anything valuable they would even fight over it. Earning five coppers from it was already good.
However, the smallest mosquitos were still food even though tiny.
When Thales and the others returned to the Abandoned Houses, they saw Rick patrol the place. But he was not the usual calm and amiable self. Instead, he hurriedly admonished the guards with a few words and then disappeared.
"Is Mister Rick in trouble?" The hungry Coria bit her fingers, her stomach rumbling away. They had gone far and returned home late. Fortunately, Thales had quite a good relationship with the thug distributing the meals, Pierson. He often bribed him a little and then the other side would agree to keep some rice for them.
"It is probably Quide. That guy really knows how to create problems." Kellet replied. His stomach also cried out.
Hearing this name, Ryan and Ned trembled.
"Kids. There is no more food tonight." When the six entered, they could not see a soul in the dining yard. In the distance, Pierson who was in charge of getting food for them, waved his hand.
"Don't look at me. I also can't do anything about it." Pierson shook his head when faced with six angry children with no energy to ask questions and ignored them. "Rick had ordered us to rest earlier and moved our schedules ahead."
Thales frowned and touched his empty belly. He started thinking about whether to sneak into the thug's sentry posts and steal some food at night.
He then looked at the other five anxiously waiting for food and sighed. He took out the Luminous Moon statue from his pocket.
Finally, with Thales' persuasion, the Luminous Moon statue was used to trade with Pierson for the food he had initially prepared for himself: two strips of dog meat, four halves of rye bread and half a bowl of black pine vegetable.
"Recently, Rick and Quide are rather edgy." While the other children ate, Pierson told Thales a piece of information before he left. "Quide's temper is getting worse by the day. He kept cursing some 'damn baldy' all day but he had always been like that. However, Rick has become weird especially in the last two days. According to those in the headquarters…"
At this moment, Pierson looked around and then whispered to Thales. "…he got tangled up with a ghost."
Thales watched Pierson leave as he bit into the unpalatable rye bread. However, when one is hungry, the rye bread would be particularly delicious.
Thales silently pondered. 'I wonder what happened to Rick to end up running into a ghost.'
'As for what made Quide in a bad mood…' Thales swallowed the bread. 'Looks like I need to keep a low profile for now.'
Rick became nervous again. Two days ago, he had thought that his special ability made a mistake.
That was until this morning when he opened up the register to prepare for the beggar's supplies. At that time, he had confirmed that his special ability did not make a mistake.
Rick was an ambitious person. He had believed that to achieve his ambition, he needed to start working on the small details, like the daily habits One example was that he would never write his plans and travel itinerary on paper. Another example was that hairs would be placed at inconspicuous places at all the drawers and containers keeping the important documents in case someone sneaked a look at them. He also did not keep all of his money in one place. He was proud of his own cautiousness and believed that he would be rewarded one day for it.
When Rick opened the roster of beggars, there was a hair on each page in the same position.
This should have been a good thing. It would mean that nobody had flipped the pages. However, Rick was the son of a scribe.
His father had taught him that if a person wants it done, it was possible for a good thief or ranger to avoid the hair trick. They can open up the documents they want with the utmost secrecy.
And so, Rick learned a more cautious approach from his father.
The way to read the pages in secret would obviously be to put the hair strands back in their original position after flipping the pages.
The fastest way would be to hold the hair in place, turn the pages, then use the hand to hold the top and bottom layer of the page to keep the hair in place.
How would one counter this method?
For nobles, the fastest and safest would be to use a wax seal.
However, Rick's father had a special method. They used fry oil1 to create a sticky gel. This oil was used by the poor living near the river bank. One characteristic and also the weakness of this gel was that it was not very sticky. As long as the book was not too heavy, even if the book is closed after being coated, the glued area would not stick. An external force was needed to hold both sides for some time before the page would stick.
When Rick opened the roster, he found the hair at the same place except for something different. The hair was stuck to the page.
Someone had been reading his list of beggars. That person held this hair as that person flipped the pages.
Rick felt his heart turn cold.
'On top of that, to have all four hairs at inconspicuous positions at their original positions without leaving any traces show that this person is a master.'
'Fortunately, this secret technique that was passed down by my father enabled me to notice this.'
'Four days ago, after watching Thales' begging act, I looked through the roster to find out which house he lived in. At that time, everything was normal.'
'From then until now. In these four days, somebody had come into my room and looked at the roster of beggars?'
Rick's scalp felt cold. He suddenly realized that this was not the most important thing.
He frantically opened the secret compartment of the drawers and checked the most important document, the trafficking books and the passbook of his secret deposits at Princely Bank.
His books and passbook were all safe. There were no signs of them being flipped and the hairs also fell naturally.
Rick felt relieved.
'Fortunately, the things in the secret compartment are still… wait. If it was a master. How did he miss the secret compartment?'
He took out the entire secret compartment and took it apart. He then placed his hand on the top of one part of the secret compartment to look for the hair that was stuck there.
After that, he collapsed back in his chair.
The hair was still stuck to a seam of the secret compartment.
When Rick was still scared out of his wits, he entered the dining hall. He turned a blind eye to the flirting Layork and Felicia. However, the always objectionable Layork loved gloating over other's misfortune. He shouted out to Rick.
"Accountant. I heard you met a ghost?"
Rick ignored him and sat down but continued to look expressionless. He pulled over a bottle of ink used for bookkeeping and treated it as sauce as he poured it over his beefsteak.
"Don't mind him." Felicia smiled as she sat in Layork's arms. She glanced amorously at the Assassin with her lips pursed and fed red wine to him. "Do you still want to come to my room tonight?"
"Of course. Of course," Layork hurriedly replied without waiting to swallow the wine, "I just learned today that the boss had removed the sentries outside the rooms a week ago. So, tonight we can… hahaha… we can be even wilder."
"Aiyo. You are really naughty."
Rick's ink bottle fell and spilled ink onto the table. The ink flowed to the front of the couple.
He had a pale expression as he raised his head to see the displeased Layork and Felicia.
"A week ago, there were no sentries at the houses at the headquarters?"
"Nonsense!" Layork wiped away the ink smeared on his body. In a bad mood, he threw a bread at Rick's face. "Recently, there is a lot of activity at the Blood Bottle Gang. The boss said he wants to keep this confidential and the fewer people around the better. That is why the sentry posts were moved outside the house. They are not even allowed to go into the house to use the toilet. However, you do not have to worry. Don't you have an inseparable ghost protecting you?"
"Then, in that hallway…" Rick did not realize that his voice started to tremble. "There should be no sentries at that passageway?"
Layork and Felicia had already started kissing each other as though there was nobody else around.
Rick took a deep breath.
'The day before yesterday, I was followed for some unknown reason at the Abandoned Houses. Then that night there was a non-existent sentry in the walkway. Lastly, someone looked at the beggar's roster in the room.'
'Wonderful. Everything is starting to connect.'
Nayer Rick then nervously told himself.
'You are being watched.'
'Your opponent could be very powerful. Powerful enough to move freely in the heavily guarded headquarters in Black Street. Not even a terrible Assassin like Layork or an experienced warrior like the boss, Morris, noticed'.
'I was lucky to receive my late father's blessings and noticed this.'
'He could be right behind me!'
'I must save myself!'
'I need to find his motive! '
Rick's mind ran wildly.
'In the past two days, that guy must have already turned my room upside down. However, he had only had a good look at the beggar's roster. My more important account book was discarded as though it was a worn-out shoe. '
'That guy is looking for something in the beggar's roster. That's right. When I was being followed, I was at the Abandoned Houses. Those were the beggar's residences!
'He is looking for a beggar!'
However, Rick had a headache thinking. He had more than a hundred beggars under him. The next month, Behrs would send another group of children of unknown origins. (The important and valuable children such as the descendants of some of the elites or children of the wealthy were either already ransomed or killed.) Which beggar was the guy looking for?
'With such terrifying skill and strength, why did he not just demand openly from the Brotherhood? We would just give him to you!'
'I would rather be in a harmonious relationship with him. I might as well drag out all the beggars and strip them naked to do a body search. Or maybe I would kill them all. This would be better than being scared out of his wits having a 'ghost' hanging around.'
'Wait. I just noticed something.'
'Why did he not make a request to the Brotherhood?'
'Naturally, this is because it is something nobody should know, even if it was the Black Street Brotherhood.'
'Are they the Brotherhood's competitors? That is wrong. If the Blood Bottle Gang had such strength, the Black Street Brotherhood would have already been destroyed dozens of times.'
'That means he does not have any formal channel and also felt that dealing with the Brotherhood of the Lower City District was not worth the time.'
'Naturally, such terrifying people would not have any dealing with gangs from the slums.'
'Why is he interested in these long-lost orphans?'
'If he is looking for missing children then why doesn't he just go directly to the police? Such people would be very influential. The authorities wouldn't dare to ignore him. Even the Brotherhood could only comply.'
'Wait!' Rick then seemingly noticed an important point.
'Powerful, sneaky, secretive, interested in the origins of a child and does not want to deal with the Brotherhood.'
'Strength requires money and resources. He is secretive because it would be bad for him if this is made public. He does not deal with the Brotherhood because he is too highly ranked. As for being interested in the children that the Brotherhood had gathered from different sources and channels...'
'Since his strength is probably above supreme-class, he must be backed by power, wealth and position. Yet he avoided the Brotherhood and the police to secretly search for a certain important child … a child?'
Rick fiercely slapped his thigh as he an idea.
'This guy is involved in the blood inheritance struggle of a big family!'
Rick glared hard opposite him, at Layork and Felicia who were starting to neck.
However, his thoughts had long separated from this couple.
Perhaps in the entire Constellation, none of the fifteen million people would know of this day. A secret truth that would shake the kingdom and the continent was almost discovered by an insignificant gang leader.
Fry is the term for fish in the infant stage. You could think of them as baby fishes. Please don't confuse it with cooking oil used for frying.