The scene took place just 200 feet away from Link. He quickly made a decision.
That merchant mustn't die, neither can I let those robbers die. I have some questions to ask them!
By that time, the robbers had pulled open the carriage door.
"Is it gold coins that you want?" shouted the horrified merchant in panic. "I can give you however much you want! 100 gold coins? 200? A thousand?"
"Stop wasting your time," the robber sneered. "Once you're dead, all your money will be ours!" Then the robber stabbed a dagger right at the merchant's heart.
Surprisingly, to both the robber and the merchant, the dagger hadn't touched the merchant's skin but was stopped by a white shining shield that appeared out of thin air. The robber could feel a strong deflective force coming from the dagger. Now, not only was he unable to stab the dagger through the shield, he even had difficulties in holding on to the dagger's hilt.
The dagger was suddenly pushed out of the robber's hand and flung far away by an inexplicable force. Even the robber himself lost his balance and fell off from the carriage.
"What's going on? What's going on!" the robber screamed in shock and terror. He simply couldn't wrap his head around what just happened.
The next moment, he saw a dozen white lines in the air, followed by a series of small explosions. Then all he could hear was the sound of his brothers screaming in pain. When he turned around, he discovered that all his brothers who had been with him had fallen to the ground. He didn't know if they were dead or alive, but this was just too horrifying!
The sight before him had made the robber's blood run cold. All he could do was stand there with his jaw dropped so low that one could fit a duck's egg into his mouth! Then, he saw a young man wearing an ink-blue robe walk towards him. This man was shrouded in a faint white aura, and he looked so mystifying that the robber was wakened from his stupor.
"Please spare me, Master Magician!" he pleaded. "I won't do anything to cross you again! Please spare me!"
Link was disgusted at the sight of this robber who had an ugly wolf tattoo on his cheek. Within a few seconds he'd thrown all his dignity away and begged for mercy to save his own hide. Link had no sympathy for a man like that.
"Get up!" said Link. "Carry all your men into the woods. If you attempt to run away from me, then you'll get a real taste of my magic power!"
As he spoke, Link unleashed a Whistle onto a big boulder beside the road. The boulder was a brown mudstone of about three cubic feet in size, so it wasn't a particularly hard material. The moment Link cast the Whistle, it shot through the air with a high-pitched screech and hit right in the middle of the boulder.
The boulder was now reduced to crumbling fragments of rocks that were sent flying through the air. The robber was just an ordinary Level-1 Warrior, so he wasn't at all accustomed to this level of power. He gulped continuously as he watched the big boulder get reduced to clumps of clay. His face was getting green with fear now and all the thoughts he had of running for his life were extinguished. He then began to obediently carry the bodies of his brothers into the forest one at a time.
Meanwhile, Link walked up to the carriage and looked inside. He discovered the merchant sitting there shaking like a leaf. There was also an unpleasant smell inside the carriage - the merchant had pissed himself in fear. Link frowned deeply in repulsion at the offensive stench.
"Get up!" Link scowled at the merchant. "Drive your carriage into the forest right there."
They weren't that far away from the academy gates, so parking it on the roadside here would make it too conspicuous and that might attract unwanted attention.
The merchant didn't dare to defy Link's orders, so he clumsily climbed into the coachman's seat and tried to drive the carriage. It was obvious that he'd never done it before, but after a struggling for a few minutes, he finally got the carriage moving. Meanwhile, Link helped maintained the horses' movement by casting a few Fireballs near them to scare them and force them to move forward. In the end they managed to get the carriage into the forest after much effort.
The three of them then walked out onto a small path in the forest. Link stood leaning against a big tree trunk and slowly poured his Mana into the Memory Crystal that he'd always been carrying around lately. This Memory Crystal would record everything that happened here - all the voices and images as well. This would later be useful as an important piece of evidence when Link decided to expose Elena's covert actions.
"Tell me," Link barked at the robber, "who ordered you to kill the merchant?"
"No...no one," the robber answered, waving his hands in denial, "I just wanted to rob his money..."
"Do you take me for a fool?" Link's wand then lit up and a Glass Orb flew out of its tip and headed towards the robber's head. It stopped abruptly a mere couple inches in front of the robber's face. Then, Link gradually loosened his control over the fire elements in the Glass Orb, transforming it from a dimly glowing orb to a gradually brighter fireball. Even the air around it started to roil up from the intense heat and the robber's hair was beginning to singe as well.
The robber was now so scared that he stood there rooted to the ground; large beads of cold sweat streamed down his forehead and he kept gulping in fear while his eyes still darted around uncertainly. Yes, he was afraid of Link, but this fear was still not enough to make him spill the identity of the person behind this.
"Don't try my patience!" warned Link. He once again let loose his control over the fire elements in the Glass Orb. With a frightening whoosh, the Glass Orb's surface turned into flames. The robber's face was burned by the fire which made him recoil instinctively.
"I don't know who she was," he suddenly spilled out, no longer daring to be silent, "but she ordered us to wait by the road for a carriage to pass by. If that carriage made this stone glow, then she ordered us to kill everyone inside it." As he spoke, the robber slipped out a thumb-sized stone from his pocket with lines of runes on its surface. It was undoubtedly a magic rune stone.
Link noticed that the robber used the word "she", so the person behind this must be a woman-it was most likely Elena.
He didn't touch the rune stone, but instead just examined the runes on its surface from afar. After a while, a notification about the rune stone appeared on the interface.
Green Rune Stone (Auxiliary)
First Effect: When a specific magic indicator appears within 300 feet of the rune stone, it will be activated and emit a light.
Second Effect: Detects all Mana fluctuations that appear within 300 feet of the rune stone and converts this information into a simple signal that will be sent to the main rune stone within a range of three miles.
'A specific magic indicator'? Link wondered. His eyebrows furrowed at the thought, then he turned towards the terrified merchant beside him and cast a Level-2 detection spell on him.
A light spot appeared with a trailing light behind it. This spot of light then flew over to the top of the merchant's head and its trailing light turned into a sheet of light that then curled into a halo-like ring over the merchant's head. Then the halo shone a light down the merchant's body, surrounding him with a thin blanket of light.
Soon, glowing white runes appeared on the merchant's chest, proving that someone had stamped a magic indicator there. There was another spot on his back where a patch of small gray runes appeared.
Link then focused his Mana and directed it to the gray runes to destroy it. Once that was done, the rune stone in the robber's hand immediately stopped glowing. That proved that this patch of gray runes was the signal for the robbers to attack him. But who would attach this to the merchant's body?
Link thought it must be no one else but Elena. She was the only one who had been intimately close to the merchant in the willow grove in the academy, so she had plenty of opportunities to stick this magic indicator onto the merchant's back. Now that he was sure of this point, Link began to see the big picture.
Now that Elena had gotten her hands on the scroll that Link assumed contained important information, she'd completed her aims and had no more use for the merchant. She had promised the merchant an ultimate prize, which the merchant assumed to be a night of carnal bliss with Elena, but in fact, what Elena meant was that she would kill him off because he was useless to her now.
As for these robbers, they must've been the people that she had hired earlier to do the dirty work for her. This way, it was impossible to link the merchant's death back to Elena. Even if Link had figured out her plans, he still didn't have any solid evidence that would prove her guilt beyond any doubt.
What was even more frightening was the fact that Elena had taken every precaution so meticulously. Not only did the rune stone serve the purpose of making sure that the robbers got the right person, it also served as a warning signal in case her plans might be found out as well. Link knew that by now Elena was already aware that her plans had gone awry. She must be thinking of a way to save herself by now. Moreover, this would give her time to destroy any evidence that might incriminate her.
Link also believed that even if he returned swiftly to the academy right now and present the Memory Crystal as an evidence, all he would achieve was to put himself into trouble. It might even prevent him from learning her real motives forever.
No one can say she's not thorough! Link thought.
All these things, Link understood in a matter of seconds. He then cast a Glass Orb and knocked the robber out with it. Then he turned to the merchant who'd pissed himself once again.
"That Elena woman that you're so charmed with is a poisonous snake," said Link. "She's the one who hired these robbers to kill you. If you still want to live, go back to the academy with me and expose her crimes!"
Although he didn't have enough material evidence against Elena right now, Link could easily prove her guilt if this merchant would cooperate and expose what she had done.
To Link's surprise, though, the merchant responded to him with a shake of his head and a sorrowful expression on his face.
"No, I can't do that," he said. "She is my queen. If she wanted my life, then I'll give it to her."
As he spoke, the merchant who had been so timid up till now suddenly drew a dagger out of nowhere and was about to stab it at his own heart.
"Farewell, my love!" the merchant shouted.
Link couldn't just let the man die right in front of him, so he quickly used the Magician's Hand to grab the dagger just in time before it struck the merchant's heart.
"Don't be stupid!" Link shouted. "She just used you like a dog! Why would you want to throw your life away for her?" Link just couldn't understand what this man was thinking. He wondered if Elena had used a dark magic spell on him, but strangely enough he couldn't detect any trace of dark magic aura from his body at all.
"I'd be the happiest man if my queen thinks of me as her dog," said the merchant wistfully. "Ah...I know she loves me, but she's a holy maiden, so she can't be with me. She must've wanted me dead because she didn't have the heart to reject me in person..."
"..." Link was speechless for a while when he heard the man's lament. He thought this man might have some kind of a brain damage. Nonetheless, his attention was caught by a couple of words the merchant had used to describe Elena.
"Holy maiden? What do you mean by holy maiden?" Link asked.
"Stop trying, Mr. Magician," said the merchant as he turned around to face Link and gave him a wry smile. "I will never betray my queen."
After finishing his sentence, the merchant went on to slam his head against the metal part of the carriage in an attempt of suicide.
The first suicide attempt might have been an impulsive action, but to try it for a second time meant that this man really wished to die, so it would be pointless to stop him now. The merchant had really lost his head to Elena, so much so that he would actually commit suicide when he found out that Elena wanted him dead.
What a pathetic man! And what a terrifying control Elena had on this man's heart!
Link didn't bother to stop the merchant as he tried to kill himself again. He used a lot of force this time and soon enough Link could hear a splat! It was the sound of the merchant's head being smashed. His lifeless body fell limply to the ground - he was dead.
Link stared at the dead body with fear and apprehension. It wasn't the sight of a fresh corpse that disturbed him so much, he was just scared for Eliard.
How far had Elena's charm worked on Eliard? If this is the degree at which a man could be controlled by her, what would happen to Eliard if something happened to Elena?
Link didn't dare to imagine the possibilities of what could happen then.
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