Author’s note: The next week will most likely have two chaps and the prologue.
“Welcome to Love Paradise. How may I serve you?” a blond woman dressed like an office lady said with a smile.
“I would like to request the mistress.” the dark-haired youth who just came in said, his amber eyes staring at the blond as if he could see right through her.
“I apologize, dear sir, but the mistress stopped taking requests some time ago.” the blond employee quickly explained.
“Martha, aren’t you?” the youth looked at the woman’s ID strapped to her black suit and smiled. “Can you ask the mistress to come down and see me?”
“I’m sorry sir, I’m really not authorized to…”
“Oh? Who’s that handsome young man?” three scantily clad women walked downstairs, smiling coquettishly. “The mistress is unavailable, but you can have your fun with us.” they said temptingly.
Glancing them over, the youth outstretched his hand, caressing the black-haired woman’s cheek. Bringing the woman closer, his other hand ventured unto her buttocks. “Ah!” the black-haired woman started.
A wry smile plastered itself on the young man’s mouth as he closed in on the woman’s face. He gently sucked on her earlobe, releasing a hot breath “You’re out of your league.”
The woman shuddered, stepping backwards. Meanwhile, her two friends weren’t that surprised. “Even though it’s a new girl, you aren’t that bad.” they commented.
“Sorry girls, but I’m a very hard person to please.” the dark-haired youth smiled apologetically. He reached out to his inner pockets, fishing out a black card. Placing the rectangular card on the counter, he turned to Martha and asked “How about now?”
“A VIP customer? I’ll go ask the mistress right away.” Martha scurried upstairs.
“That’s the highest level membership card, isn’t it? Weird, I’ve been working here for a long time and I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen you before.” one of the experienced ladies said.
“I’ve been travelling for quite some time. It’s only natural I haven’t been sighted.” the youth said lightly.
While the three women frowned at the quite poor explanation, Martha ran downstairs with big strides. “The mistress asked you to wait, sir. She’ll invite you into her office shortly.”
“Busy as always.” the man muttered, turning to Martha “Do you still have massage in your offer?”
Steam scattered throughout the room as the water from the shower evaporated. A young man in a bathrobe was being massaged by a blond female.
“I have to say, Martha, your hands are heavenly.” the young man said in a higher pitch than usual.
“Thank you sir.” Martha continued massaging the back of the man’s calves, making sure that the bathrobe didn’t hinder her.
Sweat trickled down Martha’s forehead as she meticulously massaged the lower and then the upper body. The hot temperature was taking its toll on her. Once the young man laid on his back, she noticed a lot of scars ridding his bare chest.
“Are you a soldier, sir?” Martha asked shyly.
“Just a field agent.” the man replied, looking at his own scars with a wry smile. Throughout the years, both guns and the sharp weapons have left their marks on his young, lean body.
“Who was so outrageous to actually leave me hanging?” A beautiful woman in a red dress walked downstairs and yelled grumpily. She looked at the three women lazing around and asked angrily “Where is he?”
“Who? Ah, the man from before? He asked Martha for a massage.” the black-haired lady replied.
Like a thunderstorm, the woman in red dress rushed through the rooms, quickly finding the right one. When she opened the door and saw the man lying on his back, she immediately realized why the person who walked in could be so impertinent.
“Hey Cam, you’re finally here!” the youth interrupted Martha and sat up. “Since the star is finally here, I think this has to suffice. I have to say, Martha, your hands are miracle workers and I’m not talking sexual.” the youth grinned.
“So, how much do I need to pay?”
“You don’t need to pay anything. Martha go back to work.” the mistress ordered.
“Yes, mistress.” Martha blushed and scurried away.
“Your hand for staff is great as always, Cam.” the youth smiled.
“Quit the bullshit, Jason. What have you come here for? Is it the meeting?” Cam asked angrily.
“Oh yes, that’s coming with big strides, isn’t it? I’m not that worried about it though.” Jason replied with a gentle smile. The massage made him feel elated.
“So it’s the girl.” Cam sighed, taking a seat. “Why are you so obsessed with Peach?”
“You know damn well why.” Jason’s look sharpened.
“You sent her to investigate as a double agent and she chose the other side. This happens quite often in the business.” Cam lit up a cigarette and said.
“Would you give up if you were in my shoes, Cam?”
“If it were any other agent, probably. Since the case is so personal, I would probably be as vengeful as you are right now. That’s why we’re still talking.” Cam cutely snorted. “Now put your clothes on. This isn’t a striptease show.”
“For someone who runs this “call-girl institution” you’re awfully picky.” Jason shrugged, looking for his clothes.
“You know damn well I would notify you if I knew anything about the girl.” Cam said after a while of silence. “Why did you come then?”
“Stop being so grumpy, Cam. I offered you a better job and you refused. No need to take out your frustrations on me.” Jason quipped.
“Hmph. You know damn well I’m in a business of sucking a dick. The information that comes with it is just an additional profit.” Cam glared daggers at the man. “Besides, even though you offered me the job, working for you would have been hell.”
“That’s pretty rude.” Jason acted offended by pouting. “No matter. That’s not what I paid you a visit for.” Jason emerged from behind a curtain, dressed in his black suit. “I need you to do some digging.”
“Can’t you use your network?” Cam asked.
“No, it can’t be done internally.” Jason shook his head. “One of the Six most likely went rogue. I need to know which one.”
“What?! Are you certain? Those people would never…” Cam stuttered.
“Times change and so do people. Don’t dig too hard. I don’t want the other side to be alerted. Try finding out what you can by staying subtle.” straightening his necktie, Jason walked out of the establishment.
The same day, late afternoon.
Broken cars littered the place wherever the eye could see. This remote junkyard was the propriety of Rosewell family.
“Stop!” a couple of almost bold, stout men ran in front of the metal fence to bar the entrance.
“Is Dainty home?” the youth in a suit asked with a smile.
“Dainty? Do you know where you are, punk? It’s the Rosewell family’s-”
“Oi, Dainty, you there?” the youth hollered.
The bald head leader loaded his gun and stuck it to the youth’s head. As he was about to shout “Tie him up!”, the youth’s hands moved.
With a flick of his left hand, the gun stuck to the youth’s forehead dropped to the ground. The other hand of the youth grabbed the bald man’s neck like a claw, bringing him closer, at a breath distance. “I know exactly where I am, PUNK.” The youth pushed the bald man’s face against the metal fence. “Now act like a good lapdog you are and ask one of your men to alert your boss.”
Struggling to free himself from the claw-like grip, the bald man was helpless as the youth didn’t stop even when his boys pointed their guns at him. He wanted to shoot the punk badly, but people who dared to behave so arrogantly were either put six feet under or the big shots. As such, he didn’t want to risk offending the latter.
The doors of a small metal building on the side opened, revealing a figure of a lean black-haired man. “I didn’t expect you to visit.” he said, bowing a little. “Let him in.”
The youth let the baldy go, straightening his suit, as if dusting it from filth. “Took you long enough.” he muttered.
After the doors behind the two closed, Jason sat at one of the wooden chairs inside, waiting for Dainty to get some tea ready.
“I can’t believe you still reside in this junkyard. Do you really like broken cars so much?” Jason muttered, looking out of the window.
“Old habits die hard. I used to play here as a kid. Now, thanks to you, it’s a property of my family. As you can see, the goons reside here most of the time. We don’t want to draw too much attention.” Dainty turned and smiled brightly.
“Here’s your tea. I don’t have any other, so don’t you dare grumble.” Dainty said as he poured a cup.
“Never drank the expensiove ones unless I had to.” Jason said with a smile.
“So, Jason, you’ve been undercover for over two years. What made you come out now?” Dainty asked, sipping on his tea.
“The meeting.” Jason answered straightforwardly, his expression becoming serious.
“Ah yes, I got the message. It’s in a few days, isn’t it?” Dainty thought for a while. “I’ve never seen you concerned about one. Is anything the matter?”
“We have a few undercoats in our ranks.” Jason shook his head. “Normally it’s not that much of a problem, but there’s a storm brewing, and I sure as hell don’t want to be caught in the middle of it.”
“That serious?” Dainty was surprised. “Anyways, whatever the problem is, you can count on me and my boys.”
“I know, Dainty. That’s why I came here.” Jason emptied the teacup and propped himself on his hands. “I told Cam it’s one of the Six.”
“You want to drag out the forces in the shadows by pointing at one of your loyal people. Pretty smart.” Dainty quickly deduced. “The question is – will the enemy catch the bait?”
“That’s what I need you for. You should sniff around, try to sow some confusion. Acting suspicious towards both Cam and the Six will make the others view you as a loyalist. The enemies will most likely ignore you too.” Jason said.
“Ignore or take out.” Dainty smiled wryly. “We’ve always lived with a crosshair on our backs, Jason. You can count on me.”
“Thanks, friend. In the times of need, I really cannot count on the inner circle.” Jason smiled self-deprecatingly.
Finishing his cup of tea, Dainty looked at Jason seriously. “What’s your play in all of this? Who are you trying to free the pressure off?” Dainty tried to read Jason.
“Wait, you… You’re trying to relieve the pressure off the Doc, aren’t you?” Dainty exclaimed after a while of thought.
“Indeed.” Jason acknowledged firmly. “I heard her daughter’s back from abroad. She should at least know her mother is alive and kicking.”
“Sigh, the Doc, huh.” Dainty’s expression turned thoughtful. “If it wasn’t for her, we would all be six feet under a long time ago. How is Mel doing by the way?”
“She’s fine. Still fighting the cancer, but the experimental treatment seems to be working. I won’t ler her leave us after she saved our asses all those times.” Jason smiled faintly, yet his expression was bitter.
“It’s sad, isn’t it? Such a kind soul has been bedridden by a malicious disease like that, and here we are, the villains of the world, healthy and kicking.” Dainty said self-deprecatingly.
“Remember that guy a couple of years ago? He used to say “We’re the necessary evil.” A funny chap he was.” Jason reminisced.
“Are we though?” Dainty wondered. “We were both raised in good homes, educated, trained in combat… We were supposed to be the upright young men of our generation, yet here we are, trying to control the evil behind the scenes. What we do muddle in is the undertaking of making various crimes less severe instead of eradicating the problem.” Dainty sighed helplessly.
“Unfortunately, nothing would have changed even if we switched sides and joined the government. Our boys would be locked up or put to death, while other people would take their places. That’s just how this world works. At least with us holding the reigns, we can reform some of those people.” Jason shrugged.
“I may not have a clear consciousness, but for the people like Mel who have sacrificed so much for us, we’ve got to keep this mob disciplined.” Jason looked at his watch. “It’s getting late, I should get going.”
“Your driver didn’t come with you today?” Dainty asked.
“No, I was going incognito. You should try the public transport sometime. It’s pretty fun.” Jason said and left.
After Jason left, Dainty came out of his place and gathered the men. He then proceeded to discpline them severely. “I knew that man for a long time and trust me, he had killed people for much less than what you did. Remember his face and don’t you ever dare to disrespect our employer again!” Dainty finished his speech.
“B-But sir, he didn’t wear the symbol-”
“No shit he didn’t! He came here alone!” Dainty yelled. “Those who don’t know his face – go watch the vid from the security cameras! Dismissed!”
The next day.
In a serene forest of a small town, a dark-haired youth performed his routine jogging. Every now and then, he would throw a few punches at the sides.
“Work surely makes one busy.” Jason grumbled. Yesterday, he had finally made a move after staying put for over two years. Although he didn’t completely blew his cover of Jeremy Grand, his movements definitely won’t go unnoticed.
“Since the decision to put everything into motion wasn’t mine, I could only adapt.” Jason smiled wryly, stopping by a green bench to have some rest.
“I should start thinking on founding an information network in Loiterous too. For now, it’s only fun and giggles, but once things get bloody, I’ll need that world to vent some steam.” Jason thought ahead. Most common folk won’t even know what had happened. But the Underground was different. You could live at one moment and die the next.
“What’s left is to find the girl once everything is set up.” Jason stood up, his eyes shining with a resolute look.
Loiterous, Mage Guild.
Vilenne stood in the backyard, enjoying the refreshing breeze. “Are you sure that little bastard is going to come?” she turned and asked.
“He said so. I’m surprised you cleared your schedule so fast when the news came. Have you finally fallen of your pedestal?” Cindy teased.
“I’m not the one who will fall today.” Vilenne grinned cheekily.
“Oh, he’s here.” Cindy felt a familiar presence entering the Guild.
Walking through a hallway, Cindy came to the reception hall and plastered a badge with an earth golem on it onto Icicle’s chest. “Since you’re a formal member of my Mage Guild, you should also have the appropriate badge. It’s only visible next to other members of the Guild or in the Guild itself.” Cindy smiled and patted Icicle’s back. “Now come, Vilenne is awaiting you.”
Somewhat surprised by the sudden turn of events, Icicle grinned “Is she that thirsty?”
“Hahaha!” Cindy laughed amusedly. “Ah, the youthful flirt. I miss those times.” she said as they walked into the backyard.
“You really came, little bastard.” Vilenne grinned from ear to ear.
“After hearing of your heroic deeds in the Red Blooming Valley, I naturally had to reward you with my presence.” Icicle smiled innocently.
The wind swept the backyard, bringing with it an eerie silence.
Finally, Vilenne couldn’t hold it in and her already shaking hand grabbed the hilt. “You really have some audacity to call me your servant, little bastard.” she said through her teeth.
“En garde.” Icicle said laughingly.
Cindy watched the two clash in the middle of the backyard with a smile on her face. “You seem to have improved.”
“Not really.” Icicle replied. “My body is slowly getting accustomed to this world. Also, little brat seems to be more lenient on me than usual.”
“Mm, that’s not all.” Cindy shook her head. “You’re parrying more than before. That’s a good way of conserving your strength.”
“Unfortunately,” Icicle shrugged helplessly, “the little brat doesn’t know how to play dirty at all.”
Abruptly raising his foot, Icicle threw a bunch of sand straight at Vilenne’s face.
“Argh, you little!” Vilenne struggled for a while, cleaning her eyes with water magic.
“If every noble in this world acts like this, you won’t live long.” Icicle sighed.
Vilenne cleaned her face and put up a [Liquid membrane] to stay safe from any tricks Icicle may pull off in the future. She then griped her sword hilt tighter, as if trying to vent on it. “Control yourself! Otherwise it will end too quickly!” she kept repeating in her heart.
“Say, where’s your cute puppy?” Cindy asked from the side.
“Blackie? I told him to go fight some Wild Dogs. He needs to learn [Sense presence] soon. After all, those Ice Mage Trials probably won’t be easy to deal with. I might need him more than ever.”
“Wait, Ice Mage Trials?” Vilenne heard a very familiar word. “You’re going to participate in those?”
“You haven’t told her?” Icicle looked at Cindy with surprise.
“I let the young ones resolve their matters between themselves.” Cindy grinned.
“Answer me!” Vilenne said impatiently.
“I am going. I stumbled upon a direct invite the other day.” Icicle nodded.
“So that’s what this farce was all about.” Vilenne realized what was bugging her. “When are you leaving?”
“In a month, maybe two.” Icicle propped himself on his sword and said.
“That’s plenty of time to beat some sense into you.” Vilenne grinned. “I’ll train you until you’re unrecognizable, little bastard.” she tugged on Icicle’s ear.
“I’ll be counting on you, Teach.” Icicle laughed and sneaked a slap right onto Vilenne’s butt.
The anger that seemed to subside immediately reemerged within Vilenne. However, this time, it was at least ten times of what it was before…
In the grasslands in front of Vilen Town, an unusual scene was taking place. One black dog was taking on five Wild Dogs. What was strange, was that the black dog wasn’t attacking! Quite a few people gathered to watch this, what they thought, “bug”. However, whenever any of them tried to get involved, the black dog would fiercely retaliate, taking off a huge chunk of their health points.
The black dog in question was naturally Blackie who was ordered by Icicle to learn [Sense presence]. His orders were quite simple. “Learn [Sense presence]. To do that, you need to use your smell, your hearing and your brain to predict your opponent’s movements! Spread your presence all around you and stay vigilant. Gather a bunch of Wild Dogs and let them attack you without retaliating! If you get used to their attack patterns and don’t grasp the skill, find stronger opponents and repeat the process!”
Blackie naturally listened to God, trying his best to overcome the test that was given to him. After the last time he died, he realized that God can’t always protect him. He had to be stronger to serve God well, otherwise he’ll become a dead weight.
While the attacks of his kin were bearable, the pesky adventurers were making the task hard for Blackie. They just kept on interfering with his training course!
Curtis logged in for the first time after the event. He had to attend university, so he didn’t have much time to play on the weekdays. Last time he was in Loiterous, he logged off in front of the north gate. The grasslands all around were familiar, even the air was as refreshing as he remembered.
Only one thing changed. A bunch of people stood a few hundred metres north, forming a circle. Curthis frowned at the sight. “Could there be some kind of low level boss monster?” he thought. With nothing better to do, he went to see what’s happening.
Elbowing his way through the crowd, Curtis saw the dogs infighting. “Huh? Isn’t that the Black Hound I was looking for?” Curtis rubbed his eyes. The scene looked to good to be true.
Even though he decided to give up on the matter earlier, the excitement within him rose all the same. The prize was the elite level daggers for level 10! Although it wasn’t much now, beating the Black Hound could untie the knot in his heart.
Taking out his daggers, Curtis rushed in.
Blackie dodged nimbly, quickly recognizing the attacker. Curtis licked his lips as he looked at Blackie. He took his daggers out of the ground and entered [Stealth].
On Blackie’s fur appeared a streak of bright red. He didn’t know [Sense presence], so he couldn’t see through the attack. “Is this what God was talking about?” Blackie wondered.
His next attempts at dodging were futile. Curtis chased him around, succesfully landing a hit whenever his [Stealth] was off cooldown. Blackie yelped time after time. He knew his incompetence led to this.
In desperation, Blackie was about to blend with the shadows and run, but that’s when he remembered God’s words. “Use your smell, your hearing and your brain! Spread your presence around!”
Blackie looked for the source of smell, vigilantly watching his sides. “Behind me!” jumping out of the attack range, Blackie quickly halted. He looked at his scrawny opponent and growled!
Learning from God’s way of dealing with enemies, Blackie knew he had to be decisive. He immediately entered [Stealth] and sneaked in on his opponent. Black glow covered his paws as he struck!
“Arghhh!” Curthis screamed woefully as a gruesome wound appeared on his back. The defense from the beginner set wasn’t enough to stop the blow.
Blackie didn’t stop. He struck again, this time square at Curtis’s chest.
“Urggh!” Curtis groaned through his teeth. Seeing his [Stealth] coming off cooldown, he immediately used the skill.
“He disappeared again!” Blackie started sniffing around. As new people came to see the spectacle, the amount of smells magnified. “What can I identify him by?” Blackie thought, dodging the pesky blows of the Wild Dogs.
“Blood! That’s right, he was wounded! I can feel blood and the aura similar to my own a few metres to my left!” Blackie excitedly ran to the left, swiping at the air!
Big drops of bright red blood dripped from Curtis’s calves. His legs were now hurt as well, making his movements sluggish. Blackie didn’t wait around. He jumped fiercely, swiping with his claw from top to bottom.
With a flash of white light, Curtis’s life was extinguished.
Icicle endured Vilenne’s venting in the backyard of the Mage Guild as Blackie ran in. His sleek black fur was covered with a tinge of scarlet blood.
“How did it go?” Icicle asked.
“I did it God! I mastered the [Sense presence]!” Blackie barked excitedly.
“Good job!” Icicle smiled. He knew what his familiar had achieved through the system windows, but he let the dog brag nonetheless.
“Here you go!” Icicle threw a bottle of red liquid.
“Thank you God!” Blackie nodded, awkwardly trying to uncork the vial. Cindy picked Blackie and the vial up, uncorking the potion for him. “Here, drink.” she said, not minding her stained clothes.
“Alright, it’s enough for now, you two. Go get some rest.” Cindy clapped her hands. Vilenne glared at her with some unsatisfaction, but she still followed the order.
Once Icicle and Blackie left, heading to the library, Cindy looked at Vilenne with puzzlement. “Have you felt that black familiar’s presence when it entered?”
“I don’t think so.” Vilenne shook her head. “Are you saying…?”
“Yes, that dog must have inherited some powerful dark creature’s blood. That’s probably the reason why it differs so much from its kin.” Cindy said with a smile.
“Little bastard lucked out then. Good for him. He needs some kind of happiness to go through the gruesome training I planned for him.” Vilenne grinned.