One who hunts the mind of his opponent and brings him face to face with all the dark and dirty secrets which had all been buried as they did not want to face them.
True, that ‘dark and dirty’ part might not apply to all, but it was pretty much true that everyone had some or the other thing that was still stowed away, never to see the light, as it would just affect the person in question too much if it was came in the forefront of their mind.
Right now, the Warrior was going through a vision where all of the people whom he had killed and all the things that he had done which he regretted were all surrounding him, threatening to swallow him whole and throw him into an endless pit of disgrace and shame.
In this state, anyone would be defenseless, and the Mindhunter would be able to get an easy victory.
This was something that just felt so invincible and unbeatable that after getting over his shock, Aran felt like laughing out loud, as was expected of anyone who had suddenly obtained such great power.
Yet, right before he could do so, a splitting headache made him collapse to the ground on his knees, while he clutched his head and started screaming just like the Warrior in front of him.
However, that Warrior actually recovered, and although he still kept looking around as if expecting those things to reappear, it was obvious that he was no longer under the effects of the technique.
Meanwhile, Aran had already begun to bleed from his nostrils, and as that blood dripped onto the ground, the pain only started to get worse.
“W – what’s wrong?”
As he barely managed to squeeze this question out, the king spoke with an apologetic tone.
“Err… My bad, I underestimated the negative effects that would be there when using the technique when you’re just a Human. The technique did say that if anyone tried it, they would be subject to a headache, but it didn’t say how bad it would be. Maybe it was because you used on a Warrior? Anyway, the best way to make the pain stop would be…”
That last sentence, for some reason, sent a chill down Aran’s spine, making him endure the pain and look up to see the king hefting a huge hammer in his hand while he walked toward him.
Immediately backing away, he said, “What the… I mean, My King, please put that away! Surely there must be some other way, right? ARGGHH!”
No sooner had he spoken this with panic, the pain returned in full force, making him bend over and scream again.
Unknown to him, Daneel had sheepishly scratched his nose and made the hammer disappear, realizing that maybe, he really was getting a bit too hammer-happy these days.
There were much more peaceful methods to make faint, and although they took a little bit of time and effort, but this was a situation where he wasn’t in a hurry, which meant that he should be choosing that option.
So, he asked the system to deploy a body numbing formation around Aran, and after 10 seconds during which his screams echoed in the chamber just like those of the Warrior who was looking at everything with an expression of confusion on his face, Aran fainted.
This led the King to turn toward the Warrior, who only defiantly stared back, as he had been imprisoned for so many days while just being given food and water. He had already given up on life, and after this strange incident, he had realized that it was almost as if they just existed in order to be used as guinea pigs for the King’s experiments.
Even though he was someone who had wanted to rise in power easily by targeting the king, he did not want to be subject to a life like this.
“Just kill me,” He said, before bracing himself and spitting in the direction of the king, knowing that this was something which would definitely infuriate the man and make him end his life.
True, this insolence might cause a little bit of pain, but at least he could leave the world with his head held high.
However, that spit evaporated before it even reached the king, while the man folded his hands and said, “Oh, how could I? There are so many more Paths that need to be tested, and all of you are the prime candidates. After all, there is no way I would be able to obtain such willing Warrior level individuals, even if I tried. All of you are a treasure! And if you do well enough, maybe I’ll even offer you a way to get stronger if you agree to swear an oath to me. How about it? Do you, by chance, want to swear one now?”
Like a crazy doctor who was happy that he had found a few live subjects to test all of his mad experiments on, the king smiled while showing his teeth, which made the Warrior want to run out of the room and run away as far as he could.
Alas, that wasn’t possible, and as the king understood that he was not going to accept as there was still quite a bit of resistance that needed to be worn down in his eyes, he flicked his fingers again to make the man disappear.
Deciding to wait, he resumed his perusal of all the Champion Paths while Aran rested in the formation and allowed his mind to go back to normal.
Playing with the consciousness was no simple thing. Only Champions could even hope to try and manipulate it, and even then, they would always follow strict rules, which was just like a technician from Earth fixing problems in a machine according to a manual without understanding how it really worked.
Of course, that was different from Aran, who was much more intimate with the consciousness, and was able to do so much more.
The very fact that this was one of the only Paths that could lend a one a special power even when the one training in it was just a Human showed just how precious and strict it was.
Although other Champion Paths also did so before one reached the Champion level, it was typically when they were warriors, and not when they were humans.
Thinking back to what Aran had said, Daneel realized that one thing was true, though, his objective of helping his commander to break through had failed.
By training in the technique, Aran had broken through the illusion formation in an unorthodox way instead of passing its test and becoming a Warrior first before being allowed to leave. In other words, he had found a backdoor out of it that he had taken as there was almost no way for him to pass the test of the formation due to the specific illusion that he had gotten trapped in.
Hence, the man was still a Peak Exalted Human.
Putting his hand on his chin, Daneel began to tap it as he thought long and hard about whether he could do anything more.
After a few minutes, he finally got an idea and teleported away.
As the hammer he had seen in his last waking moments had gotten really entrenched in his mind, Aran repeatedly dreamed of it. At times, it chased him, and at times, he chased it. At times, for some reason, he even slept in a bed with it beside him. This was so strange and weird that Aran had to wonder whether he was going crazy, but as the scenes kept shifting, he slowly understood that he was dreaming, which allowed him to relax and rest.
An unknown amount of time later, he groggily woke up to find that he was alone in the room.
Very few vestiges of the headache were present, but just the phantom pain that assaulted him when he remembered it made him want to scream again, but he controlled himself as he realized that it really was gone.
As soon as he began to look around and wonder how he was supposed to contact anyone, the king once again appeared in front of him, and the man once again had a smile on his face.
“Welcome back to the land of the living. I hope you had a nice rest?”
“Yes, My King, and I bet it was much better than what I would have gotten if you had gone ahead with your hammer plan.”
This made the king smile sheepishly again, but Aran hadn’t been able to resist saying it, as he even now remembered just how huge that hammer had been and how intimidating it had looked.
As if to change the subject, the king directly answered the question that was on his mind.
“The headache came as a result of you using your power when you were not even a Warrior. The best time to use it is when you are a Champion, and you will also be able to sustain it for a longer time, then, unlike now when you had to release the Warrior from the vision right away. That isn’t to say that it is invincible, though, so you can’t actually go around thinking that you can defeat anyone. First of all, he was defenseless, but if there was even a normal barrier on him, it would cause your technique to be impeded. There are also special spells that can be used to defend one’s mind from such things, and you can also never discount the fact that there might be someone who can quickly get over their guilt and become ready to fight you after growing even stronger. Granted, that last case typically doesn’t occur, but it is still a risk. However, the positive thing is that that skill of using someone’s fears and trauma against them is not the only one that you will have. When you grow stronger, you will obtain more things that you can use to bypass different kinds of defenses, and if you train hard, I dare say that you will stand among the top in the continent. That’s all very far from you, though, as you’re still just a Human. Sure, you can use the technique for, like, a couple of seconds, but after that, you’ll be knocked out for 18 hours.”
18 damn hours?
This surprised Aran, as he hadn’t expected that it had been so long.
Also, that line about him standing on the top had indeed made a smile appear on his face, but that had hardened into something more determined when it was followed up by the hard fact that he was still quite weak.
Indeed, the technique was magical, but it was currently limited by his own strength.
But how was he supposed to break through?
As if understanding this question, too, the king took out a folder from somewhere and handed to him.
“Here. It’s possible that this will help you find the ‘need’ that you can use to break through. Records of this were purged from everywhere, as you already know, but there was still one person who knew about it.”
The moment he heard the word ‘purged’, the first thing that Aran thought about was his town, but when he took the file and opened it to see the painting of a man who looked like a hulking bear with kind eyes, he gasped as he realized what it actually was.
Indeed, it was an official report of just what his father had been up to during the time when he had been fulfilling his duty as a spy.
Apparently, he had been sent on a secret assignment by the previous king, himself, so even the master of spies, Luther, had had no information about it. Right after Aran had become a commander, he had asked, and found this out.
And, of course, before he could ask, the King had perished, so he had thought that he would never, ever know for sure just what his father had been doing.
With anticipation on his face, he quickly flipped through it, while the King also began to talk.
“The previous king originally wanted your father to find the weaknesses of the Kingdom of Axelor so that he could invade it if he wished, but instead of that, your father focused more on the difficulties of the people and how that could be exploited to change the ruling party. The truth was that he wanted the king to change, even if it meant that someone like the previous king of Lanthanor would take his place, as there would at least not be those random purges that killed thousands at once. It was said that he even saved many from purges using ingenious methods, and he was lauded among the populace of Axelor as someone to look up to. In fact, it was this growing attention that caused the king to wonder if he should call him back, and that was when the disaster struck. I understand that you might not have felt the ‘need’ so far as you didn’t have a very strong direction in life, that wasn’t vague and just built from things you might have guessed. But I feel that this… will show you what you should do. I-”
Daneel stopped talking, as he had felt the wild rush in the air that indicated that someone nearby was breaking through.
His smile broadening even further, he teleported away in order to let his commander break through in peace.
A few minutes later, not intending to waste any more time, Daneel convened a meeting of all the most prominent ministers in the kingdom to make another announcement, which would be the fourth one that would rock Angaria.
He had been thinking deeply about everything Eloise had told him during their walk, and he had come up with something that he was very excited about.
Taking a deep breath, he began the announcement.
“Henceforth, the Alliance will be the only place in Angaria where there will exist regulatory bodies that will keep a close eye on things that affect common people such as salaries, prices of goods, and other things where an unfair manner of manipulation is taking place. We will also be setting up a Patent Office, where people can patent their inventions in either trinkets or even spells to make sure that others will not copy them and steal their glory. And, finally, there will be a system where any one can anonymously query anything regarding the government, be it the way funds are being used, or the way in which jobs are being allotted. For the first time, there will be a transparent government. Oh, wait, there is one last thing…outsiders coming in can avail all of these things and set up their own town/city with help from the government. Let this spread to each and every corner of the continent!”
As silence hung over the room, a smile appeared on the corner of Daneel’s mouth.
He knew that the Queen must definitely have some sort of counter-attack planned, and that she would strike soon.
However, what if he managed to pull a major chunk of settlements toward him before she even managed to do anything?
In a way, it would be like playing poker, but snatching away the cards of the opponent before they revealed them to show that they had a great hand.
Looking forward to such a scene, Daneel teleported away.