Chapter 142   - Paranoia

“Something’s wrong?” Moui asked, his stern visage looked down at him. The man was too perceptive.

“I’m just tired,” Kai gave a weak smile and continued to walk. He let his gaze wander over the fields like a bored child, careful not to watch any person for too long. Inspect quickly spotted an unusual pattern.

Two more people a little farther away caught his attention, an old woman and a teen girl. Kai couldn’t say what it was, the way they sat or stood or their posture, but their interest in the comings and goings from the Veeryd jungle left little doubts.

One can be a coincidence, but three?

“I’m sorry if I pushed you too hard.” The hunter's low voice rumbled.

If I tease you, it’s only fair that you can do the same.


“I said it’s fine,” Kai brushed him off, his mind busy considering the possibilities. “It was good training.”

South of Sylspring, the jungle treeline was several kilometers long. There were only five or six paths the hunters and gatherers used, still too far to check from his position. Most of those people were no more than pinpoints over the green fields. Kai couldn’t think of a way to check the comings and goings without arousing suspicion.

“Still, I shouldn’t have insisted.”

“Uncle, I wouldn’t have agreed if I didn’t want to do it, no matter how much you argued. It’s fine. I appreciate you helping me figure out the skill.”

The observers looked like any other islanders, with tanned skin and muddy clothes, worn out like anyone who spent their day working the earth.

Could they be rebels? No, that doesn’t make sense.


It had not been long enough for The Voice of the Ancestors to poke their heads out of whatever hole they hid in. This effort was too large and organized for them.

What would they gain anyway? This has to be the Republic.

The thought of natives of the archipelago working for the government wasn’t reassuring. Kai crossed his fingers, hoping they were undercover enforcers. There must be skills to change appearance.

If Hollywood magic could do it, I’m sure real magic can as well. But what are the chances there are these many people with such a skill?

If you hear hooves, think horses not zebras, the most obvious solution was usually the correct one. It could also be one person capable of disguising other people, though the chances of someone with such strong and rare skills being in Sylspring were even lower.

It was an awful lot of trouble to justify a much easier solution he didn’t want to face. The pirate attack on the town might have hurt the economic interests of the Republic, but it also pushed the population closer to their governors.

People wanted safety, no matter where it came from, or from who. The Republic had been the hero who saved the day, which wasn’t too far from the truth. From what he heard, the raiders would have pillaged and killed for hours more without Zerith’s intervention.

He took my secrets to his grave. I doubt the next captain of Sylspring will be half as good or accommodating to me. Especially now that anybody could be a spy.

Since Kai learned of the scholarship program, he knew this day was inevitable. Though he thought there would be more time, ideally after he left.

Wishes rarely come true.

Leaving the observers behind, they continued down the dirt paths that crossed the farmland to join the streams of people heading back to town. “Uncle, how’s the Hunter’s Lodge? Noticed anything unusual?”

Kai’s hopes to avoid trouble by staying away from the Republic and the rebels were rapidly shrinking. Why couldn’t the two sides have at each other while he minded his own business?

Yeah, that’s not likely unless my Favor reached a hundred while I wasn’t looking.

“Huh? How do you know? Did you sneak into the jungle?”

Damn. I never hated being right more.

“I was just guessing. Can you tell me what happened?”

Moui frowned, narrowing his eyes. “Nothing much really.”

“Uncle, weren’t you feeling really bad for mistreating me?” Kai used Improvisation to let his voice break with emotion. “You mercilessly tormented me for the whole day, this is the least you can do.”

“I didn’t—” Moui missed a step, caught off guard by the sudden shift in tone. “I asked you if—”

“I’m sure I’ll feel much better if you answer my question,” Kai added with tears swelling up in his eyes. To close the deal a couple of passersby threw the hunter disapproving looks.

And I didn’t even pay them. You might have won a battle, but the war is mine.

“I’ll tell you, just stop that.” Moui surrendered, looking over his shoulder and lowering his tone. “Many hunters have disappeared since the raid, and things have been… different. That’s it, nothing particularly strange given what happened.”

Kai nodded, that was about what he had expected. Despite the official effort to sweep the accident under the rug and act like nothing happened, Kai’d bet the governor wasn’t going to forget so easily.

Judging by those strange spies, the Republic knew where to direct their attention. The dense jungle wouldn’t be able to protect the rebels any longer. Even if they had abandoned their hideout, Flynn had told him many members at the Hunters’ Lodge were affiliated with them.

“Uncle, I think it’s best you don’t frequent that place anymore. And keep Kea away from it.”

“Why?” Moui forced him to stop with a hand on his shoulder, squatting to his height. “Kai, what are you not telling me?”

“Just trust me on this. That place means trouble.” Kai bit his cheek. Whether the rebels had gone into hiding or not, the Republic wouldn’t stop before turning every stone and leaf. “I’ll explain when we’re home.”

If there were spies watching the comings and goings from the jungle, spirits knew what else they were observing. Paranoia kicked in, Kai made a conscious effort not to glance over his shoulder.

“Let’s go home.” Moui looked straight into his eyes, finally agreeing.

Glad I’ve never joked on serious topics.

His family didn’t know about the involvement of the rebels in the raid nor of his kidnapping. What was the point in worrying them after it was over? What they didn’t know couldn’t hurt them.


It was a new day. The cheery bustle outside his window was the same as before the accident, a tad less loud. After spotting the spies in the fields, Kai began to notice oddities everywhere he went.

He had barely managed to sleep a wink last night, expecting people to break down his door and kidnap him again. After the raid, his profession had taken all his attention, but he couldn’t avoid the memories forever.

Each time he closed his eyes, images flashed in his mind, being tied up in a basement, a town in flames, lifeless bodies in the streets…

There is no more danger.

Inspect was good at picking up patterns, maybe too good. Just because someone he hadn’t seen before asked questions or observed his house, it didn’t mean they were secret government agents or hitmen.

Not every odd action hides a conspiracy, and coincidences happen all the time. It’s probably nothing I should worry about…

Kai was only able to remain calm since Hallowed Intuition was silent. Its warnings might not have been clear, but there had always been a warning when something dangerous was about to happen.

He had told Moui about the rebels and why he should stay away from the jungle, trying not to reveal how he discovered it. His Uncle knew there was more to it, luckily he didn’t press him for more answers.

What a damn headache. I can never catch a break.

Perhaps if he kept a low profile and trained his skills out of sight, everything would turn out for the best.

Yeah, how many times did that work?

That was one of the reasons why he hadn’t taken an alchemist profession. The quiet never lasted long and he wasn’t very good at ignoring what happened around him. This time he’d rather get a warning before all hell broke loose.

Better safe than sorry.

Kai had no idea how many times his luck had saved him, but he needed to increase his chances beyond what Favor would provide. Maybe he would have already been killed without it, or kidnapped by more competent people. Only the spirits knew if he had survived fighting Tridel and the pirates on his own merits or if fate might have played a part.

I gained every point of it myself, except the two I was born with, so it was me either way. I literally earned my luck.

What was certain was that trouble had found him many, many times regardless of how high his seventh attribute got. Be it for his own fault or chance, Virya had warned him Favor was ‘unpredictable by definition’.

Pulling away from the window, Kai put on a pair of loose green pants and a sleeveless white shirt to head outside. His problems weren’t going to solve themselves if he remained hidden in his room.

With some effort, he stopped using Inspect on every passerby he met. Even if they were truly spies, that knowledge would do nothing but make him lose his mind. He needed to think clearly to find a solution.

His innocence wouldn’t protect him if he got pulled into the investigation of the Republic. He’d rather not find out what would happen if they learned about his spatial ring, skills or profession.

In the merchant district, Kai knocked on the metal gate, smiling at the old butler who came to open.

“Master Kai, what a pleasure,” the man’s cold eyes told him he shouldn’t be here. “I don’t recall you having an appointment with Master Reishi. It has been an extremely busy week.”

“Oh, I didn’t. I hope it’s not a problem, Reishi said I was always welcome,” Kai slipped inside before the man could react. “I’ll wait for him in his study. Don’t worry, I know the way.”

While several servants and guards glanced at him, no one stepped in his way. He must have broken a dozen etiquette rules, but the merman wouldn’t care, and there was only one butler who could actually order him around. The two men at the main door let him in after a glance behind his back, probably to check on the old man who must have resigned himself to the facts.

The mansion was bigger than any house had a right to be. He could get lost among the hallways, but he remembered the path to the study from his previous visits.

The butler was grumbling behind him. “Wait Master Kai, that’s not proper. I can show you to a different room.”

One where you can forget about me till next year?

Reishi should still be in town to set things up after the chaos from the raid. If not, it was only a matter of time before he stopped by. “This room will do just fine, thank you for your concerns.”

The door swung open on well-oiled hinges and the gleaming point of a spear tickled his nose.

Maybe I should have knocked…

“I come in peace,” Kai slowly raised his hands in surrender. “Hi, Jiro. I’m truly sorry for your brother, I wish I could have helped him, but I was too late.”

The young man who had guarded his lab came into focus with his dark green hair. Kai had to admit reminding him of his twin dead brother, Jomei, while the man pointed a spear at him wasn’t one of his brightest ideas.

Having a weapon an inch from my face doesn’t encourage rational thinking.

“Kai, what are you doing here?” Reishi called, sitting at his desk. Jiro lowered his weapon, taking his place beside the door.

“I came to see you. I thought you’d like to hear the news,” Kai said while glaring at the butler. “Sorry for not knocking.”

You could have told me Reishi was already here.

“Don’t worry. I’m sorry for the… welcome. I’ve heightened my security after what happened. Algyle, bring us some tea,” Reishi dismissed the old butler. “Jiro, you can guard outside my door.”

With a small bow of the head and a nod of acknowledgment to him, Jiro closed the door behind him. Kai was happy to see the merman looked better from the last time. Still tired, but not about to flop dead from overwork.

“I’m sorry if I came unannounced. I can wait if you’re too busy.” Kai looked at the two piles of documents on the desk.

“An hour more or less won’t make a difference.” Reishi waved him to sit on the sofa while he joined him. “I’m glad you came. Am I right to assume you went through with it?”


“And… Did you take an alchemist profession?” Reishi’s eyes sparkled with excitement. “You must have been offered one.”

“I was,” Kai answered truthfully. “But I didn’t take it.”

The merman flopped on the plush sofa with evident disappointment. “What did you take to then, if you don’t mind me asking.”

“It’s a general mage profession with a focus on learning. It will also help my brewing. It’s quite good.”

“Sounds fun. Do you need my help figuring it out?” A spark of interest reignited in his gaze. “Profession skills work quite a bit differently from general skills. I’ll offer you my expert consultation for half the price.”

Kai’d bet if Reishi learned about Mana Echo, the merman would find a way to make him copy more alchemy skills. “Thank you, but I’m fine. That’s not why I came here today.”

“Anything I can help you with, just tell and it will be done,” Reishi snapped his fingers with a pompous gesture—quite impressive with his webbed hands. “Did anything happen?”

Kai stared at his feet. How could he present his worries without sounding like a madman? “Well… I noticed some strange things lately…”

By the time he had finished describing the suspicious people he noticed and the secrets he’d rather keep from the Republic, they were both holding a cup of steaming mint tea. Reishi listened without interrupting, a pensive look on his scaled face.

“Am I worrying for nothing?”

Tell me I’m just paranoid.

“I have good and bad news,” the merman started off. “I’ll start with the good one.”


“I don’t think you should worry too much about your profession. Actually, it might be better if they found out about it. They’ll think you wasted your full potential by being hasty and might lose interest in you, which is what you want from what I understand.”

Kai nodded, he hadn’t thought about it like that. If Reishi was right, he could at least cut one of his worries from the list.

The merman took a long sip from his cup. “That is unless they learn how good your profession is. And from what you’ve told me, it’s pretty good. I can get you some enchanted clothes to hide your mana channels like mine.” He straightened his aquamarine silk robe, glowing with runes.

“They are much more common on the mainland, but even here I’ve seen many people wear them. It shouldn’t attract much attention as long as you stick to appropriate places.”

“I think I’d like that if it’s not too much trouble,” Kai readily agreed. Most merchants and half the tourists wore some form of enchanted clothing. Not many islanders did, but for once he could take advantage of the fact he didn’t look like most natives.

“I’ll call my tailor to fix an appointment and place an order,” Reishi refilled his cup. “It costs about five to ten silvers or so for a custom pair depending on the specifications. Then there is the bad news.”

Wasn’t that enough? Who spends that much on clothes?

“Go on,” Kai readied himself.

“The Republic is indeed having an investigation. They sent people from Higharbor to sweep the town, and they’re out for blood.”