Through empty hallways, Zack headed towards the bas.e.m.e.nt . .
Going past aged corridors that stank of rusted iron, he stopped before a large door . He retrieved a key from his breast pocket and turned the lock . Checking behind him to make sure he hadn't been tailed, Zack entered the room . .
I heard the lock click as soon as the door was closed . .
I too checked my surroundings and seeing no one there, I revealed myself . .
I turned the door handle . Locked, as expected . .
I jutted some slime into the keyhole and picked the lock . Lockpicking is something I learned in my past life so it was a breeze . What's a power in the shadows if he can't open a few closed doors?.
Incidentally, I have my slimes hidden inside my body so they won't find anything even with a full pat down . .
I checked the presences on the other side and, determining it to be safe, stealthily entered the room . .
It was a large, dimly-lit room . A celler of sorts . .
At the back of the room, there was a lit lamp with a number of men gathered around it . .
I sneaked closer and hid behind a crate . I checked and the crate was empty . .
The men were discussing something in the dark room . Zack was among them . .
"Boss, we're all here like you ordered . ".
The man who the others seemed to defer to as their boss stepped forward . I'd imagined him to be something like a boss grunt, but he turned out to be a lot younger . .
In his early 20s, most likely . .
He had gray hair extending down to his shoulders and was well featured . He was no grunt . In fact, he even looked sort of intelligent . .
From his musculature and posture, I could tell that he was trained in martial arts . .
He didn't have the air of an prisoner at all . .
I like it . Breaking the mold and all that . .
"Well met, brothers . The Doem Faction is pleased with your various contributions . ".
The boss said with a practiced voice, casting his gaze over the surrounding men . .
He then proceeded to ask each one of them what he desired . .
I see, so the thing about giving it to a guard was a lie . .
"Zack, what about you?".
"I want— food . Good food and more of it . Enough for two people at least . ".
Nicely done Mr . Zack!.
"Gonna put on 'em pounds, Zack!".
Zack cringed from the surrounding jeers . .
"Boss, let's have another stripper show with the boys!".
"That s.h.i.t's great, boss!".
"Again? …Try to keep it in moderation, men . ".
Like that, Mr . handsome bossman listened to everyone's requests one by one . .
And once he was done, his face turned serious for the first time . .
"Brothers, we are in difficult times . Lately, there have been more attempts to cull our numbers . Why only yesterday, a coach carrying officers was a.s.saulted, resulting in 7 dead . ".
For a moment, I thought that was talking about me, but I didn't leave the camp yesterday, so it must be someone else . .
"He's skilled . Every time he's killed, he's done so without a sound . We've taken to calling him OWL . ".
OWL, eh… sounds important . .
"And believe it or not, there are signs that this b.a.s.t.a.r.d OWL is in this camp . ".
That got a slight reaction out of Zack . .
"Zack, something the matter?".
Zack lowered his gaze to escape from his boss's overpowering stare . .
"This OWL likely wants to get in contact with Clara Oriana . We must find him before he does . Is that clear?".
All the men nodded . .
"Then that is all for now… no, there is one last matter . We have a traitor amongst us . ".
The bossman drew a knife and poised it towards Zack . .
"—You . ".
And with surprising speed, he threw it . .
Other than me, none of the men gathered could dodge a throw like that . .
The knife grazed past Zack's ears and sunk into the face of the man behind him . .
"This is the fool who dared to leak our info to the Royalists . ".
The other men simply looked on silently as the traitor bled and died . .
"That is all . You all may leave . ".
And leave they did without a moment to spare . .
"—Zack . ".
Zack, however, was the only one told to stay . .
"You're— not hiding something, are you?".
The bossman looked at Zack with chilled eyes . .
"N-never, boss . " Zack squeaked while seating bullets . .
"—All right . I will believe you . " The bossman patted Zack on the shoulder once, and left the celler . .
Now left alone, Zack heaved a shuddering sigh and wiped off his sweat . .
Which is when I decided to also pat his shoulder . .
"Oo, ooooahh!? Wait what!! You!! What the actual f.u.c.k!!".
Mr . Zack got extremely freaked, and then seriously angry . .
"Oops, didn't mean to do that . Thanks for keeping the secret . ".
"Like I have a choice . He'd kill me soon as I told . " .
"Likely, yes . ".
"But d.a.m.n, so you're really that OWL…".
"Truthfully, I'm really not . ".
"… Wait, you're not?".
Zack didn't seem very convinced . .
"I never went out yesterday . This OWL is likely someone similar to me . ".
"Yeah, sure . You think you can pa.s.s any info about OWL to me? You saw it right? Bossman's suspicious of me . Mainly 'cause of you . ".
"It shouldn't take me long to find out who OWL is . I can't guarantee if I can have you know, however . There are few people in my line of business… those of reputable skill often turn out to be acquaintances…".
I said this so he doesn't ask any more questions . Since I had no clue who OWL is . .
"f.u.c.k me . You gotta help me out, man . Boss is f.u.c.king ruthless, you saw him right? You might be fine . You can use your mana . But me, I got nothing' . ".
"Oh, by the way, your boss's mana seal coller . It's a fake . ".
"Y-yer kidding me!?".
"Nope . ".
"Fuuuck… so he's even stronger than you?".
"—What do you think?".
I did the instant mana release trick causing a small gust . .
"Uh, yeah, maybe not…".
"It doesn't really… oh? What's this…".
Due to the sudden wind, a small piece of paper landed at my feed . .
I picked it up— and got a brilliant idea . .
"— Interesting . ".
I muttered cryptically . .
"What's going on?".
"A note from one of my agents . I know have a very good idea who this OWL really is . ".
"What!? That's way too fast!".
"Take a look . ".
I handed over the blank piece of paper . .
"I, can't see anything!".
"It only responds to very specific mana signatures . Namely mine . It's also an encrypted message . ".
"Seriously… looks completely white to me…".
Zack scrutinized the page from all sorts angles . .
"Can't you tell me something, even a hint?".
"… You're sure?".
I closed in and whispered to him . .
"Code 0 . ".
"Zero being the first of numbers, meaning—".
Zack gulped . .
"—All will begin at last . ".
I said while simultaneously erasing my presence and moving out of sight super fast . .
"— HUH!? He's gone!? f.u.c.kin h.e.l.l, the door's still closed, how…".
Inside the empty crate, I stayed hidden until Zack left . .