Chapter 3138 Stalking the Prey (Part 2)  

Stalking the Prey (Part 2)

"And as soon as they calmed down a bit, they went to the closest city to call for help. The report raised a flag in the Council's system and I came here to check."

"Still, great job." Solus nodded.

"Not really." He replied. "The report mentioned the wounds in detail but while the human Constables thought the villagers were exaggerating, I recognized the signs of a battle between Awakened."

"I'm done here." A snap of Lith's fingers dispelled the Hush Zone. "Do you have any idea what happened?"

"Yes." Strider knelt near the corpse of the man, revealing two silver coins in his pockets. "The most likely scenario is that our mark ran to Xant and paid the farmer for hospitality and discretion.


"Either the farmer sold him or Vidun failed to keep his mouth shut as usual, his pursuers found him. You know the rest."

"It makes sense." Lith nodded. "Based on my readings, someone slept alone in the master bedroom while the farmer and his wife slept in the children's rooms.

"Someone picked the door at night. Two people, to be precise. They wore cloaking devices but not made of Darwen. Their energy signature is weak but I can still read it. They attacked our mark here…" Lith pointed at the shredded king-size bed covered solely in blood.

"The noise woke the farmers up and one of the Awakened took them out with air magic." He highlighted the clean, massive cuts left by air blades. "At that point, Vidun exploited the respite to Blink away."

Lith pointed outside the house and then further.

"The assailants followed him. I suggest we do the same before the lingering energy signatures become too faint." He could actually spot the runaway Awakened at a great distance, but Lith preferred to be underestimated. "Sure." The three of them walked out of the house and followed a series of Blink marks to an isolated spot amid the tall grass.


"This is what's left of one of the assailants."?Lith pointed at a blackened area of the ground.

The vegetation there was dead and withered like after a long summer drought yet everywhere else life thrived. It was the sign of a recent and powerful darkness spell.

"Agreed." Strider dipped his fingers in the dried ground, smelling ashes in it.

"Now that I think about it, where's Ryka?" Solus asked, looking for the Titania.

"She's on a real job." The Zouwu grunted. "We already know this has nothing to do with the helmet. Ryka stayed behind to cover for my absence. We can't let the Hand of Fate know of our extracurricular activities."

"Too bad." Solus sighed. "I'm going to miss her."


"Me too." Strider sighed as well, giving her the impression that maybe the Titania's advances were breaching through his grumpy demeanor.

"Three energy signatures arrived here and only two left. This way." Lith pointed north-northeast.

Away from prying eyes, they took flight and followed the trace from above. A few kilometers later, they found signs of a bigger and longer fight. Several spots were charred by fire and the ground had been reshaped like only an earthquake or a powerful earth spell could.

If air or water magic had been used, the water had already evaporated and the smell of ozone was gone.

"The second cloaked guy died here." Lith said. "From this point onward, only a bright blue energy signature remains and it went that way."

He pointed in the distance, where the Eyes of Menadion had spotted Vidun's presence ever since Lith had completed scanning the farmers' house.

"A single bright blue core? This is going to be easy." Strider scoffed, releasing his bright violet aura to highlight the difference in strength between him and Vidun but also drawing Solus' glare. "No offense, Solus."

"Quite taken." She grunted, receiving all kinds of sweets in apology from the Zouwu. "Okay, I forgive you. How long has passed since the slaughter? Just to have an idea of what we can expect."

"The corpses were found right after the murder. The neighbors became worried because no one had taken care of the animals and they made a lot of noise.

"Then one full day of travel to reach the closest Constable station, four hours for the report to be filed and flagged in the Council's network, and two more for me getting here and investigating the scene.

"We are talking about a little more than one and a half day. Two tops." He replied. "I agree with Strider." Lith said. "This should be an open and shut case. The guy has no secret lab or powerful allies otherwise he would have never sought shelter from farmers. Vidun is alone and can't have put up much of a defense in so little time.

"This is too easy. Something is fishy."

"What did you expect?" The Zouwu shrugged. "We are looking for a guy who is famous to be a blabbermouth moron. If he had any brains, no one would have ever known about the book."

"Strider is right." Solus said. "We know about Vidun and so do the undead and whoever these assassins were." She pointed at the site of the fight. "Vidun is clearly no evil mastermind and there's no telling how many more people are chasing him for the grimoire. If they get to him first, we might end up chasing after someone who knows how to disappear."

She grabbed Lith's arm for a covert mind link.

'Please, Lith. You know how important this is to me. Also, how many times did you say this very same line for nothing, back when we worked as a Ranger?'

Solus was right. Lith's paranoia always projected huge shadows that most of the time were just shadows. Yet a few times, it had been his reluctance to dive into a case without thinking that had saved their lives.

'Let's compromise. We move on to Vidun's position now, but whatever happens, don't lower your guard. Okay?'

'Okay.' Solus took a few deep breaths to calm herself.

"Follow me." Lith took point with Strider in the middle and Solus covering the back.

The wide and non-magical area allowed him to perform wide sweeps with the Eyes with little burden for their brains. Strider, Lith, and Solus were filtered out so the only thing left for the Eyes to scan was their mark.

Lith advanced slowly, casting both life-sensing and array-detection spells from time to time.

"If he's not moving, better safe than sorry." Strider nodded.

Yet until they arrived a few hundred meters from Vidun, there was nothing and no one to find. The runaway Awakened had found shelter inside what looked like an abandoned hunting cabin.

It was even smaller than Lith's old house but it was surrounded by several kinds of middle tier arrays fueled by magic crystals. A few of them were invisible to Life Vision, requiring a spell or the Eyes to be perceived yet ready to trigger the moment someone entered their area of effect.

'This must be how he survived the ambush.' Lith pointed out. 'The guy is a decent Warden.'

The array-sensing spell confirmed the readings of the Eyes about Vidun's defences, but after the bad experience with the thieves of the Ears, Lith was still on edge.