The knight departed with the warrior's body, and only when everything was silent did Noah step down into the street. The result was rather disappointing. He had been hoping the warrior would put up more of a fight. 'My mana is getting low. I guess I should head back to Bella.'
He began the trip back to the Knight's Sheath, though while his mind was eventually pulled from Bella and drawn to another girl, her voice even more pained and fearful. He looked over into the nearby alley, seeing a cloaked man on top of a homeless woman, covering her mouth with one hand and ripping at her clothes with another. He stood and watched while his mind formulated a decision. Beneath the film of magic, the violent scene was reflected in his indifferent eyes, while his breathing and heartbeat were calm as could be.
A dark voice began to stir. 'Is there any way this can benefit me? I'm pretty sure she can't reward me with anything of value.'
Then there was another. 'Besides, I'm taking a big enough risk just being out in the streets invisible. Either I drop my magic and expose myself, or I kill him and she spreads the rumor of an invisible guardian angel. Any action I take could lead to someone identifying my magic and using it against me.'
And a third. 'I'll just let the knights deal with this. This isn't worth my time.'
He couldn't come up with a useful reason to get involved, but when the voices came, his rule was to disobey. Noah strolled over to the man, pulled back his hood, and plugged a dagger into his spine as if he was charging his phone. Death was instantaneous, the man collapsing like a puppet with its strings cut. He kept the man's head pulled back so that the young woman could get out from under him, but fear and shock had taken her ability to move. Noah would have to do something to calm her. He didn't want to break his invisibility, so he summoned his clone to speak through. When it appeared, she screamed in terror and finally managed to get to her feet, leaving Noah confused.
True, someone suddenly appearing out of thin air would have been shocking, but she should have shown some kind of relief that she had been saved. It was when Noah looked down at the body that he realized someone was different. His hand, gripping the man's skull, was no longer his own. His illusionary clone had taken on the man's appearance, from his robes to his mask.
'No way,' Noah thought to himself as he examined his new appearance.
Not since he learned his second spell had his magic displayed any kind of evolution. Was this an ability he had always possessed or something he just unlocked? Either way, the mana expenditure was much higher, twice that of his regular clone's appearance. He released his invisibility, now disguised only in the illusion. This had to be studied while it lasted.
'How did this happen? What triggered it? I've killed several men while invisible, but I don't feel like I can take their forms. I activated my spell while I was making contact with him. Have I ever done that before? No, meaning it must be a condition to activating the spell this way. Are there any other conditions?'
He looked at his hands and rubbed them together. His fingers felt greasy, his whole body did, in fact. His mana, which enveloped him like an aura, had been corrupted by foreign mana. Noah could see it coming from his corpse, the last wisps of energy before all his cells died. Was this supposed to happen? Was this a new ability or a revealed weakness?
He began to lean towards the latter, soon realizing that he couldn't separate from his clone. He should have been able to control its movements separately from his own, but the mana remained stuck to him. He put his hand over his eye and found that the spell would not deactivate.
"You got to be kidding me," he hissed.
If this really was because of the body, then he either had to get away from it or possibly wait until total cell death. If he didn't break the spell, his mana would continue to deplete, and once he was empty, he'd be vulnerable to attackers, or worse. Either way, it was time to return to the Knight's Sheath, but first, the spoils of victory. He took a minute to loot the man's corpse, collecting various daggers, vials of unknown concoctions, and a few scrolls. He slipped out of the alley and began running down the dark street, retracing his steps to the brothel. It seemed he had wandered farther than he thought.
Light, heat, they came so suddenly that Noah barely managed to dodge. A jet of flame out of left field was the last thing he needed. The source was a knight, his face concealed by his helmet with his extended finger acting as a flamethrower. These flames, conjured by magic, were a raging crimson, like boiling blood. Noah had seen a few knights since coming to this world, even found a set of one's armor in a goblin tunnel. From appearance alone, that poor schmuck was nothing compared to the man Noah faced. A display of his rank adorned the chest plate, a gold-rank knight, equal in authority to a general. His armor was heavier and more encompassing, leaving nothing exposed. He was less of an armored knight and more like a walking tank. Even if Noah's magic was working, he didn't have anything that could break through his defenses, or stand up to those flame attacks. This was one of the worst-case scenarios, not that Noah didn't have options.
"Not one more step, filthy vermin," the knight ordered.
"I don't want any trouble, nor do I take part in this madness. I am simply an observer." Not only his appearance, his voice now matched the slain man's.
"No one who wears a Harajin mask can be innocent. Your life was forfeit the moment you stepped into my city."
The knight began to approach and drew a large battle axe, with an edge that screamed 'execution'.
"I was sent to deliver a peace accord to your king. If you kill a messenger, it will cause a catastrophe."
"Shut up and die!"
The knight charged towards Noah and swung his axe. Noah dodged the attack and then the second, this time from the side. He was fast, monstrously so, pursuing Noah with a ferocity that left him barely able to dodge. He had a long reach and every fall of his axe split the ground. Noah kept his distance, studying the knight's moves. Rather than drawing his usual weapons, Noah conjured a sword from within his ring, the sword that matched the armor he had found in the goblin tunnel. He finally took a chance and blocked one of the swings while exposing the blade. The line of runes on the blade were put on full display.
"Look! This sword was entrusted to me by the knight who met me at the harbor. He said it would grant me safe passage."
Regardless, the berserker tried to push him back and flames began streaming from the openings of his helmet. "You really think me to be such a fool? You think others haven't lied to try and escape their judgment? I am the royal executioner. My job isn't to listen or show mercy, it's to end the life of whoever is put before me!" He released one hand from his axe and pointed his finger at Noah. "And unfortunately for you, my passion for it burns quite fiercely."
Noah cursed as a ball of flame appeared at the tip of his finger and dodged to the side. His plan to move into the knight's blind spot was anticipated and he was struck by a jet of flame. He shielded his head with his arm and it took the full brunt of the inferno. He rolled out of the flames and back on his feet to try and open up some space, with any flammable substance between him and the knight now burning.
The situation was now at its worst, as Noah's right arm was no longer usable. Though his disguise remained unchanged, the burns were 3rd degree, and everything was either numb from the incinerated nerve endings or sending pain signals to his brain that nearly made him retch. All of the moisture in the damaged tissue had been vaporized, leaving both smoke and steam wafting from his arm. With his mana depleting, he could barely stand, and his body would likely be going into shock pretty soon.
"Using big fire spells in the city streets is a bit risky, wouldn't you say?"
"You think I would be out here if I couldn't control my power?" He waved his arm and the flames between them were sucked into his palm. "You and you alone will burn."
"But everyone else has been trying to keep this quiet. You're burning the curtain that you're supposed to keep the citizens from looking behind."
"Good, I want them to see this. I want them to see the flames, to hear the screams of the guilty as I rain my fury upon them. Let them look upon the ashes of your execution and know that it is the fate of anyone who breaks Uther's laws."
The guy was a lunatic, and that fact was more dangerous than any spell he could possibly conjure. However, Noah was ready. He returned his sword to his ring and conjured one of the daggers he had taken from the masked man. He lobbed the dagger up into the air towards the knight, and as soon as it left his hand, he conjured a second and repeated the throw, this time hurling it straight. The knight charged, and to his credit, managed to deflect them both. While retreating, Noah hurled a third dagger, and this time, the knight ignored it and let it bounce off his chest plate, same with the fourth. The pattern was formed, now to break it.
One final throw, not that the knight cared. It was a glass vial, and he realized something was wrong when its contents were splattered on his armor. "Poison!" he cursed. That first breath knocked him off balance, the second breath brought the pain, and the third scrambled his thoughts.
'Monster repellent, actually,' Noah mentally muttered.
That window sent him sprinting into the dark alleys, trying to put in as much distance as he could. While he ran, he drank a health potion, his last. His burnt arm went from searing to itching as new flesh was generated. One potion was not enough to restore the damage and it simply covered the afflicted areas with scar tissue and pacified his exposed nerve endings. His arm was still unusable and would have to wait.
He had passed through this area before during the day and made a bee-line for an exposed crawl space under a shop. As soon as he hit the ground, his mana ran out and his illusion broke. It was a little close for comfort, but he timed it well and he had a moment to himself. After catching his breath, he took a gulp of his last mana potion to restore a bit of his strength and then cast his invisibility. With these knights and killers prowling around, this crawl space wasn't safe. He had to get back to the Knight's Sheath.
He returned to the streets and hurried to his destination while ignoring everything else in the city. Just because he was invisible didn't mean he was safe. He had been aware of it since the beginning and encountering that knight and various other enemies had hammered in the fact that his offense and defense left a lot of be desired. As a fighter specializing in stealth, it was his main weakness. He'd have to find some kind of technique or barrier that could protect him, especially from spells that affected large areas, and a means of punching through heavy armor. Despite his wounded arm and near-death battle, this night had been a success. His injuries showed him what he needed to improve on and he had discovered a new manifestation of his magic; two vital pieces of information.
He arrived at the Knight's Sheath to find all the doors were locked and there were no candles burning inside. All the customers had either gone home or were sound asleep, and none of the staff were available to help. Noah circled the building and stopped at one of the windows. Earlier, Daniel claimed he was sleeping in one of the back rooms, and this window led to it. The window was high up, but Noah was at least able to tap on the glass. It took more than a minute of persistence to finally hear movement inside. The window opened and Daniel stuck his head out, still half asleep.
"Huh? Noah? What are you doing out there?"
"I was craving a walk in the moonlight. Care to let me in?"
"I'll be honest, I don't know if I have the authority to unlock the front door, let alone open it. I could lose my job if I let someone in after hours."
"Well then you're going to have to deal with Bella, because I tied her to the bed, stuck a candle in her ass, and told her I would be back soon."
"You did what? Jesus fucking Christ, dude!"
"Quiet! Just hoist me up through the window."
"Fine, give me your hands."
"I can only do one, the other is injured."
It was a grueling task that left both men sweaty and bruised, but Daniel managed to lift Noah up by his good arm and pull him through the window. He landed rather ungracefully on Daniel's cot and got to his feet.
"Sure thing. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to sleep. Some of us have work tomorrow."
Noah strolled into the parlor and made his way up the stairs. He was once more invisible, just for good measure until he reached Bella's room. Inside, he found her asleep in the same position he had left her in. The candle had fallen out, probably for the best. He managed to untie her with his good hand, though it took some effort. He was about to climb into bed when an idea struck him. He reactivated his invisibility, no longer feeling the presence of that foreign mana, and when he summoned his clone, it appeared in his image. He dispelled the clone, rested his injured hand on her back, and then cast it again, and his clone still took its normal appearance. The biggest and perhaps deciding difference between her and the masked man was obvious.
"So, it seems I have to kill them first..."