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The Tracks of an Artisan (3)
Just as Ian had expected, the village of Bordon wasn’t a normal village at all.
It had been a long time since the village was taken in the hands of the middle-aged man Jackson and twenty-something other swindlers, constantly exploiting the villagers who had originally lived there. Of course, the villagers weren’t aware that they were being cheated on by their young chief and his men. Jackson and his crew were quite a convincing cult group.
“The stew tastes really good.” Ian said.
“Haha…ha.. that is.. quite a relief. Really.”
Today was one of the few days travelers passed by since Jackson and his men had taken over the village and started living like royalty. Jackson was planning to revive his old skills. However, things were not going as he expected from the start. Even though he had used up a whole bottle of sleeping pills, the light-brown haired traveler Lian didn’t even seem to be planning on passing out any time soon.
‘Why?’ Jackson thought to himself.
Was it because it was cheap? No, that wasn’t it. The reason for anything to be cheap would be because of its toxicity. That meant the pills itself should work perfectly.
‘Is it expired?’
Jackson’s logic only seemed to stop there. It was impossible for him to think beyond that. It was impossible for him to suspect the fault was with the traveler himself, not the medicine. He was already eating his third bowl.
‘This really tastes good.’ Ian thought.
He was truly enjoying the stew. Looking back, he hadn’t had a normal meal like this since the age of twelve in his previous life. It was a special meal he was enjoying after thirty six years. In his hunger, however, it only seemed like a side dish.
‘It would have been a lot better if he hadn’t mixed in the pills.’ Ian thought.
He was a magician. Not just any magician. He was a Great Wizard. He could stop pretty much any potion from having effect. But that was different from stopping the taste and smell the pills had added on the food.
‘Thinking about it…’
Ian peered over at Jackson, the middle-aged chief. As Ian was clearing his bowls of stew, Jackson was doing his best not to show that he was perplexed. Jackson would never be able to trick Ian, but he was quite an actor.
‘Should I let him be.’ Ian thought to himself.
There was a lot for him to keep an eye on. The statue that worked like an Artifact, and claiming the statue to be the symbol of the dragon cult. He could use force to get the information he wanted, but decided to see how things played out.
“By the way… about the statue.” Ian started.
“Yes? Ah, the dragon statue. What about it?”
“It didn’t seem like any dragon statue. Did you make it yourself? Or did you bring it in from somewhere else?”
Jackson pondered on how he could answer this question. What would be the best way to answer? He had to be convincing.
“It was… a few years ago. We brought in the statue when the drought went on longer than we expected. Things got better since then. The dragon statue is like a god to us.”
It wasn’t a lie at all, although the details were a little different from reality. He was telling the overall truth. It was a fact that there had been a drought, and it was also a fact that the dragon statue had been brought in around that time.
“Does the dragon truly respond to prayers?” Ian asked.
It was he who was fooling Jackson in this situation. Ian blinked with wonder, as if completely clueless. Even if Jackson was quite the actor himself, he couldn’t win over Ian, who had the accumulated wisdom after living two lives. One was not to speak of acting if they had never pretended to have the innocence, tone and shaking of a twelve year-old when they are actually forty-two.
“That is what we believe.”
“Then would he answer to mine?”
“If you pray sincerely, I’m sure he would.”
“Ohh.. “ Ian said in awe. It was a perfectly fake shout of wonder. “I would like to lift up a prayer as well, if that is possible for outsiders. As you probably know, it’s not everyday outsiders like myself get rare chances like this…”
“Of course,” Jackson said, “We can do that immediately.”
He led Ian to the statue without hesitating. The villagers who had been doing their morning service were nowhere to be found. Perhaps the morning service was over.
“There is no particular rule in doing this. Just make yourself comfortable, and pray with all your heart. As long as you mean it, the dragon will definitely answer your prayers.” Jackson said, pointing at the statue.
He seemed very convincing, as cultists were.
“I’ll get out of the way for you.” Jackson said, stepping away so ‘Lian’ could pray in peace. Ian, however, wasn’t thinking of praying. He wanted to see how the chief and the villagers would react if something out of the ordinary were to happen suddenly.
‘If this statue were to be broken…’ Ian thought, wondering what would happen if the foundation of this cult, this statue, that is, would lose its power. How would the villagers react?
‘Let me see your true identity.’ Ian thought, smiling slightly to himself as he reeled in his powers.
His counterpart was a mere shoddy statue.
The way the Artifact conjured up magic was the same way a magician did. That meant it was also weak against the strongest spell that could interrupt any operation of spell techniques – the Spell Disorder.
“Oh, Great Dragon. Light the way for me for my remaining journey. May I find the truth that I am looking for on this journey, and please help me get back home safely.” Ian called out in a loud voice for everyone to hear.
‘How to rob of him?’ Jackson thought to himself as he listened to Ian’s ‘prayers’.
Jackson had been keeping a close eye on this so-called traveler ‘Lian’, who was praying. If he was here all the way from Greenriver, it meant he had been on a long journey.
Even so, his robes were in good state, and his skin looked healthy. It was proof that he had been sleeping and eating well on his journey. He was certain ‘Lian’ had a fine budget he was traveling on.
‘He does seem capable of taking care of himself.’
It seemed ‘Lian’ was traveling without any bodyguard despite the large amount of money he was carrying around. He had defended himself easily, despite Cleven stabbing at him with his blade. This meant he was confident in martial arts, enough to protect himself.
‘I will gather my men in advance, and then we will distract him.’ Jackson thought.
It shouldn’t be too difficult distracting him alone to a quiet place where no one was around. Soon, he would see the dragon respond to his prayer, and he would start getting interested.
Then, all Jackson would have to do was convince him. Tell him he was there was something better to show him.. anything would work. There was a lot to trick him with.
But things were going strange. Jackson was sure the statue should start soon. The lighting up the statue does, that is.
Just that morning, during the morning service of the villagers, the statue had lit up just fine. But why did it stop all of a sudden?
‘Is it broken? Is that even possible?’
All this time, ever sine ‘he’ had sculpted the statue, it had never gone wrong. He was sure of it. So why was it breaking down now, after all this time?
‘Dang it! Not helpful at all.’
This was a disaster. It wasn’t that Jackson could call him to fix the statue in front of that traveler ‘Lian’ and the villagers. He needed a solution.
“Hmm… I prayed with all my heart, but it looks like it’s not enough. He’s not responding…” Ian murmured, looking at the chief. He sounded a lot more disappointed than he looked.
“Of.. of course not. There are times when we do not get answers either. Especially after morning service. Why don’t you try attending another service later on?”
“Another worship service?”
“We constantly have services for the dragon in this village. If you are not in a hurry, how about staying at our town for the night? We will lend you a room to stay in, too.”
“No need for that…” Ian started to refuse, but the chief Jackson waved his hand dismissively.
“It has always been rare for our village to have guests. Every single one of our guests are special to us. If you leave without being satisfied, we will not rest easy as well.”
Jackson could be quite convincing. He had the dignity of a cult leader.
“Well…. If you say so… alright.”
It wasn’t a bad offer for Ian as well. If he pretended to lodge in the room they offered, he might be able to find out how they would take care of the broken statue.
“Come right this way. Let me lead you to the room you will be staying.”
Ian was led to a special room to the right side of Jackson’s cottage. It seemed like a reception room for guests.
‘I will wait until he lets his guard down. Then, we hunt.’ Jackson thought to himself as he left the room he had led ‘Lian’ to. Fixing the statue was his top priority, for the sake of fooling that rich traveler and taking his money, and for the sake of exploiting all the foolish villagers.
“Oi, Collin!” Jackson called one of his servants.
It was the same villager who had asked him how the morning service should be carried on. He was a bulky, vicious-looking fellow.
“Were you looking for me, brother- I mean, Chief?”
“Bring that boy to me immediately.”
“It seemed like his mental illness was relapsing again earlier.”
Jackson took out a vial. It was a vial filled with dark purple liquid.
“This is a tranquilizer. Feed this to him and bring him to me. Quickly!”
“Yes.. yes sir. I’ll be right back.”
Another servant came rushing in. Unlike Collin, he had a small figure.
“You take the boys and keep the villagers at bay. Do not let them come anywhere near the statue, am I clear? Also, keep an eye on our guest – do you understand?”
Time went by and soon the vicious-looking servant, Collin, brought someone over. No– he was dragging someone over. Maybe he did have his tranquilizer, because he appeared to be dazed, drunk with the medicine. It was Cleven. It was the crazed child who had tried to attack and frame Ian as an assassin after Ian teleported out of thin air.
“Sorry about earlier. Did we not have a guest present? I hope you understand, for you are such a nice child.” Jackson said, patting Cleven on the head.
The boy seemed to have calmed from having a fit earlier. The purple tranquilizer seemed to be working.
“So.. the reason we summoned you is because of.. the statue. Thanks to your statue, we’ve been able to.. Ehem! Anyways, we seem to have a problem. Would you mind taking a look for us?”
The boy Cleven walked over to the stone statue. He still seemed dazed, drunk in the medicine, but he glared at the statue with bright eyes.
Cleven quietly held up his tools and hammer. He then started to hit the dragon statue all over. He seemed to be overdoing it when Chief Jackson had specifically asked him to fix it. It was as if he were destroying the statue.
“Well, do you think you can fix it?”
Jackson didn’t seem to be bothered by Cleven’s actions.
BAM! BAAM! BANG! BAM!
Of course, Cleven didn’t answer. He simply went on waving his tools and hammer around, hitting the statue. The statue that was already shoddy looking looked shoddier than before.
“Be more careful. It needs to keep its form of a dragon!”
Cleven went on with his hammering, not bothered by what anyone was saying to him. On some parts, he went full force, while seeming to engrave something on the bottom of the statue. Just when his unique fixer-upper process was coming to an end, Jackson spoke up.
“Are you done? Did you fix it?”
“That’s the problem with this medicine.” Jackson muttered, clicking his tongue.
He walked up to the statue and started muttering whatever came to mind.
“Please help us to keep doing this.. and uhm.. also..”
Just then, a stream of light burst from the statue. The Spell Disorder Ian had cast over the statue was broken. The crazy boy had broken the spell with his hammer.
“Yes!” Jackson shouted in triumph and gestured over to his servant, signaling him to take Cleven back.
He didn’t bother to award Cleven, let alone give him a compliment.
“Come with me.” Collin grunted. The vicious-looking servant grabbed Cleven by the neck and took him back home. Cleven’s house was a storage in an isolated part of Bordon Village, with a lock on the door.
“Stay in here until you get back to your senses,” Collin ordered. He shut the door with a BANG.
The door was locked with a clicking sound, but Cleven remained quiet. He simply stared into space.
“I… don’t remember…” Cleven muttered for the first time since he had his medicine. His voice was a different from when he was yelling at Ian earlier, calling him an assassin. His voice seemed much more mature.
“Who… am I?”
Nobody would be able to hear his question. The moment the question slipped from his mouth, a man’s soft voice answered in reply.
“I’m wondering that, too.”
At the same time, a body slowly appeared out of thin air.
“Who are you, that you are capable of handling Artifacts?”
It was the light brown-haired traveler. Ian had stepped out of his Transparency Spell.
Lightly Re-edited by FlawFinder. Not much needed to be done this chapter. Fixed a few awkward sentences and such.