Arjîn\'s options were limited.
Being against a fellow magician, he doubted that Hatorne employed common locks.
The illegal market was her biggest source of income, she was bound to have set alarms and safety measures to get rid of intruders or destroy all the incriminating evidence, in case something went wrong.
Arjîn wasn\'t hot-headed, neither the mission had a deadline, so he bid his time, waiting two days to get his opportunity.
It arrived in the form of a shipment of crates, that two young men delivered after parking their carriage in the alley of the service entrance.
Finally, the door was opened from the inside, allowing the goods to be brought inside by both the guards and the couriers.
Using Life Vision, Arjîn checked the surroundings for witnesses and then the building to make sure the intelligence he had was correct.
There were no guards hidden inside, and that was good news.
If Arjîn wanted, he could have jumped down and killed them all in barely two seconds.
The corpses weren\'t a problem, he could store them in his dimensional amulet, and so was the blood.
A simple pulse of dark energy would delete every trace of the massacre.
But that would mean killing two potential innocents, not to mention that the carriage and the crates were bound to draw attention, since they were perfectly visible from the main road.
Arjîn waited for the guards to get back in, and at the last second, when the door was about to be closed, he Blinked inside.
Arjîn\'s stiletto severed the man\'s spine from the skull, killing him on the spot.
Before the second guard, a bulky middle-aged man, could even react, Arjîn Blinked again, appearing behind him and putting his right hand on the guard\'s mouth before slitting his throat from ear to ear.
Not even a drop of blood reached the ground, Arjîn managed to capture all of it with water magic and store it in his dimensional amulet.
Then, he proceeded to search the corpses, finding a set of keys and personal effects.
Judging by his looks, the middle-aged guard wasn\'t married, nor had any family.
Under the breastplate, his clothes were dirty with days old food stains, missing some buttons that he never cared to replace.
His belongings amounted to a set of gambling dices and a wineskin already half empty, despite was still morning.
All signs that the man was letting himself go, without a care in the world.
The other guard was younger, cleaner with an oval shaped locket around his neck, inside there were four initials inscribed in a heart.
Arjîn used air magic to shave off his scruff and water magic to remove the fake scar, applying at the same time some make up to resemble as much as possible his victim before donning his clothes.
- As long someone doesn\'t come close enough, it would be hard to recognize me as an intruder.
Even if that happens, surprise should give me a second or two, plenty enough to get rid of the meddling b*stard. –
After sealing the bodies in his dimensional amulet, Arjîn used earth magic again, this time scanning the building from the inside.
As he had suspected earlier, it had been shielded against external probing, but from there he was able to perceive an uncharted grid of tunnels and rooms right below the shop.
Arjîn left the warehouse, heading towards the nearest entrance.
He regretted not having the opportunity to search the crates behind him, but now he was on the clock.
His goal was to get all the evidence he needed, before either blowing up the place or running away after writing an apology note.
Thanks to Life Vision, he could see that the door in front of him had no magical properties.
Nonetheless, when he found the right key, he used spirit magic to unlock it, just to be safe.
According to the blueprint, the shop occupied the first floor of the building, being composed by the exhibit space of medium-low value merchandise for the public to see, the warehouse, to stock the unsorted raw materials and an ample corridor, connecting the two with the employee facilities.
Below the street level, were supposed to be just the alchemic lab and the vault, containing the high-end products and rare ingredients.
Thanks to earth magic, Arjîn had no problems finding the hidden lever to open the path to the tunnels.
The road was disseminated with alarms and traps, but between royal magic and Life Vision, he was able to get past them, barely slowing down.
Building a magical lab underground was unusual, but not unprecedented.
Handling powerful spells and volatile components, it was of paramount importance that the facility was perfectly insulated from external forces.
If mystical wild energies were to enter, whatever the reason, during a crucial step, the best-case scenario was losing hours, if not days of work and all the resources employed.
Worst case scenario, the whole lab would go boom.
A good insulation by magical means was very, very expensive.
That was why stingy or needy magicians would choose the underground option to ease the burden on their wallets.
Arjîn thanked his good luck for Hatorne not having realized that her ruse was a double-edged sword.
On one hand, it had allowed her to build a lab under the lab, away from prying eyes, without raising any suspicion.
On the other, though, he could see via Life Vision that she had been really stingy.
The real lab was poorly insulated, and that meant that Hatorne could not have placed any kind of powerful magical device in its vicinity without risking her own life.
As he expected, from that point onward, the traps and alarms were only of mechanical nature, making his job much easier.
While he delved further, Arjîn suddenly realized why the security was so lax.
The corridors were large enough for two adults to be barely able to walk side by side, and magically lit so that there was no hiding place.
Going in was relatively simple, but if he were to be discovered, getting out would be nigh impossible.
The low ceiling made flying useless; the tight space prevented to use agility to run away.
Strength and numbers would be much more important in a fight compared to speed and magic.
The first room he encountered was a luxurious lounge, with an expensive carpet covering all the floor, and velvet red couches and armchairs arranged around a long cherry-wood table.
- It must be where she discusses business with her \'special\' clients.-
Arjîn noticed several wooden boxes lying on the tables, each of them had a very complex magical lock already activated, except for one.
He recognized the rune pattern.
It was a variation of a lock very popular among smugglers and spies.
It allowed itself to be opened by whoever knew the right combination, not only by the one that had imprinted its magic, yet a single mistake and the vessel would implode, destroying its contents.
This version seemed to be more complicated and dangerous, it would explode instead of imploding.
Arjîn stored all of them in his dimensional amulet, hoping to be able to find a way to break into them later.
He also took the unlocked box, and after moving some of the furniture to get as much space as possible, he placed it on the ground, pushing the opening button.
The box grew to the size of a big closet, containing beckers, glass rods, vials and several burners.
It was also full of gears connected to mechanical arms that seemed to have been designed to hold and handle the laboratory glassware that had yet to be arranged.
It was a marvel of magic and science like Arjîn had never even dreamt about.
- Whatever this is, it must be the unassembled version of what lies in the other boxes.
If only the glassware was already at least filled with the ingredients, my mission would be as good as done.
As it is, the question remains.
What the heck is this for
He compressed it again, storing it away too.
The lounge lead to another small corridor, identical to the previous one.
After checking with earth magic and Life Vision for traps or hidden guards, Arjîn moved forward, determined to find the last piece of the puzzle.
His steps didn\'t produce any sound, allowing him to keep an ear out for incoming enemies, yet he encountered no one.
At his left, he found another door, unlike any other in the building.
It was thick and padded, made to prevent something from coming out, yet it had no lock whatsoever.
This piqued his curiosity, so after changing back to his enchanted suit and preparing for the worst, he slowly opened the door.
What he saw was so creepy that even a hardened veteran like him could not help but feel cold shivers running down his spine.
The room inside was small, five meters (16\') large and ten meters (33\') long, with chains coming out from the walls and floor.
At first glance it could look like a prison, but everything was wrong.
There were no prisoners hanging, just corpses.
One seemed to have exploded from the inside, its chest cut open in two by a single huge wound, that no known weapon or beast should have been able to inflict.
Another was burnt to death, while its neighbour was frozen solid, and despite the room was far from cold, it didn\'t show any sign of thawing.
After checking them both, Arjîn understood that their death made no sense.
It wasn\'t the result of any spell or natural event, fire and ice respectively had devoured them from the inside.
The last corpse was even stranger than the others.
What he supposed had once been an old man had now his face disfigured by agony.
The eyes rolled back showing only the white.
The corpse had its veins turned of a bright blue, and they were bulging out, like they were going to burst open at any second.
When Arjîn touched the body to better examine it, the old man regained his senses, whimpering an almost silent prayer.
Please… kill… me.
Arjîn jumped back from the surprise, instinctively activating Life Vision.
Not only the old man was alive, but all the chained bodies, even in death, kept emitting a mana signature.
Whatever had killed them was still active.
- What in the gods\' names has that madwoman done -
Arjîn stored the bodies, the royal mages would have a lot of explaining to do.
Then, he checked the old man again.
He was clearly in a lot of pain, in no condition to be moved and Arjîn was no healer.
He had only recently become an Awakened one, developing with true magic only the spells he was already apt to.
I\'m sorry, old man, but your body or those of your companions may hold the key to prevent a great disaster.
The Kingdom honours your sacrifice.
Arjîn snapped his neck, giving him a painless death, but as soon as he did, the chains started blinking with magical energies.
Even without understanding how, he knew to have triggered some kind of alarm.
Arjîn assessed that between the bodies and the boxes, he had gained enough.
It was time to get out of there.
Unbeknownst to him, it wasn\'t an alarm, just like the room wasn\'t a prison.
It was just another lab, with a different kind of guinea pigs.
The chains had simply alerted the assistants that was time to collect the data.
Arjîn rushed all the way back using air fusion, slowing down only to avoid the traps.
Suddenly, a man with a wizard attire and a couple of guards popped out of a corner, managing to sound the alarm the moment they spotted the intruder.
Cursing his bad luck, Arjîn darted forward, his stilettos made short work of the guards and the mage, that died before having the time to cast a single spell.
More and more guards flooded the corridors, dying like ants under Arjîn\'s stilettos, their corpses piled up as fast as they arrived.
The alarm kept resounding in the building, forcing an assistant to alert his mistress.
Mistress Hatorne, there is an intruder in the Kandria\'s lab. Her voice was full of panic.
How far has he gone What has he taken The old, hoarse voice was more annoyed than worried.
They had disturbed her during a crucial point in her latest experiment.
We don\'t know.
He\'s about to come out from the underground lab.
I don\'t know how long we will be able to stop him.
Please, help us!
Help you A bunch of incompetent, ungrateful idiots You are all fired!
Coirn Hatorne took out a glass pearl from her dimensional amulet, crushing it under her heel.
A second later, a powerful but controlled explosion erupted from the underground lab, turning everything and everyone in a radius of five meters (16\') from the shop into ashes.
Then she took her communicator amulet, informing her client.
Lukart, old fart, I have good new and I have bad news.
The bad news is that an intruder screwed up your little master plan.
I had to destroy everything to prevent him from escaping.
What\'s the good news
I\'m still not finished, you idiot.
My old student, Professor Reflaar, had come to collect his order, and he is probably dead too.
If I\'m right, and I usually am, the intruder was sent here from the Queen.
The death of the Professor is ill timed, they will probably think he was one of your lapdogs.
Also, I don\'t know if there was more than one intruder or what they have found out.
The last batch is either lost or in the enemy\'s hand, if I were you, I would make haste.
If they find out their content, you\'ll fail even before you start.
Archmage Lukart\'s voice was full of anger and impatience, he would have buried alive that old hag years ago, if only he had the chance.
But Hatorne was too smart and knew too much.
I am still waiting for the good news. He roared.
The lab was insured.