The Storm King

Chapter 771: Confronting Rufus

Chapter 771: Confronting Rufus

Leon tapped his foot impatiently on the bricks of the road, waiting for Narses’ people to show up.

Over the past few days, the Chief of Security had been running down Valentina’s leads and achieving some measure of progress. There weren’t many vampires that were caught, but many people were arrested and brought in for questioning. Most of these were unknowing collaborators, ignorant of whom they were collaborating with as they rendered the vampires various clandestine services, but some were criminals or demon-worshippers themselves.

Still, the number of vampires caught so far wasn’t promising. Leon was a little frustrated, especially with everything else he had going on, but he hoped today would prove to be different.

Narses had specifically requested his help with this upcoming raid. He’d tracked down a den of small-time vampires supposedly operating a blood farm out of a villa southwest of Occulara, and Leon had grabbed a few of his retainers and made for the staging point. It seemed he was a little too eager as Narses had yet to arrive.

With some time to think, Leon couldn’t help but ponder everything else happening right now. It had barely been half a year since Red had told him that she needed a year to give her young the bare amount of care that wyverns provided their young, and yet she was already on her way to him. She’d tried to get Heaven’s Eye in the Pegasi States to help her reach him, but apparently his letter of introduction only went so far in securing their cooperation. Fortunately, after receiving the message that she was in Utavi, Leon was able to send word back that she was, in fact, one of his people. For now, since the rulers of Utavi didn’t want a seventh-tier wyvern flying around unescorted, she was being hosted by the Tower Lord in Utavi’s capital, and Leon would have to make his way south to go and pick her up at some point in the near future.

He also had the thunder wood to look forward to. Four days had passed since Tikos had indicated his research team would only need a week to get a more concrete idea of what the material was and how it as made, and Leon could barely contain his excitement.

But, as a troop of Heaven’s Eye guards appeared in the distance, Leon put those thoughts out of mind, for now.

The staging point was about five miles away from the suspected blood farm, along a seldom-used back road cutting through some of the older farms in the area. Fruit orchards dominated the agricultural sector in this region, giving them plenty of space to conceal themselves from any potential lookouts at the blood farm—even those with magic senses.

“Leon!” Narses called out, the platinum-blond man riding with three others in a less-conspicuous hovering chariot than the one he’d rode to Leon’s party. Trailing behind him were thirty powerful Heaven’s Eye security mages. Leon, meanwhile, had grabbed Valeria, Anzu, Alcander, Marcus, Gaius, and Alix.

“Narses!” Leon responded.

The chariot came to an abrupt halt and Narses jumped out. “Thank you for meeting me on such short notice,” he said as he conjured a table and map from his soul realm. “Can you see the villa?”

“I can.”

It was a fairly standard villa for the area. An outer wall with a reasonably large two-story building in the middle of the grounds. Outside of the outer wall were several acres of fallow fields and grazing lands. Very flat and relatively clear land, ensuring that there wasn’t much cover from the edge of the estate to the outer wall.

The map that Narses had brought turned out to be a floorplan of the building. They couldn’t count on it too much, but together, the two of them used their magic senses to examine both the floorplan and the exterior of the villa—the interior being hidden by standard privacy wards—and took a few minutes to plan out their raid.

Once that was done, everyone got moving.

It was fairly late in the day, so Leon’s retinue took off into the sky and shadowed Narses’ advance. They moved quickly, not wanting to give those in the villa any more time than they already had.

From the air, Leon didn’t think such speed was particularly necessary, but he appreciated it anyway. There didn’t seem to be much of anything going on within the villa. It looked like the front gate had a couple of guards, two men were quietly chatting out in the small garden, and there were a few lights on, but otherwise, Leon couldn’t see anything of note. The villa wasn’t even large enough to have a stable for horses or carriages.

Five miles was covered in a matter of a few minutes at the level of their raiding party, and once they reached the field, Narses and Leon wasted no time.

Narses’ people spilled out into the field and immediately spread out. They weren’t coming from the main road, so those within the villa didn’t even realize what was going on until the security mages got close.

“Hey!” one of the guards at the gate called out as Narses’ chariot sped around the corner of the outer wall. “Identify yourself!”

Narses shouted a response, but Leon and his retinue were already plummeting down behind the villa’s outer wall.

Marcus and Alcander hit the ground right next to the two men in the garden, their weapons drawn and magic brandished. Those two nearly jumped out of their skin in shock, but surrendered immediately. The guards outside did likewise as Narses forced them their knees with nothing more than his aura, but by then, Leon and the remainder of his people were already stacking up outside of the villa’s main door.

Not bothering to knock, Leon, with more lightning flowing through his body than blood, kicked the door. He broke it right down, but he was still a little surprised—the door was more heavily reinforced than he’d expected.

But it was still broken down, and he surged in, his body sparkling with arcs of lightning.

Just inside the villa was a small atrium with doors to the right, left, and opposite the entrance.

“Alix, Gaius, left,” Leon ordered. “Val, Anzu, right.”

His retinue moved to those doors as he went to the one in the back. Once again, he kicked the door down, noting that at the same time, Narses was getting the gate open as several other security mages were leaping over the walls to secure the grounds.

The inner atrium door was reinforced just like the main door had been, but it couldn’t stand against Leon. It broke down with a single kick, revealing an open floor plan on the other side.

A hallway of columns and extended from the door to the back of the villa roughly bisecting the huge room beyond, while to the right and left were the kitchen and main living space, respectively. In the kitchen were two more people, while five were in the living room, all possessing weapons, but none being strong enough to possess elemental magic.

Leon didn’t even give them a chance to ask what was going on and let loose with a relatively weak blast of lightning. Lightning scored the white walls, ceiling, and columns black, while blasting everyone Leon could see and rocking the villa with thunder.

All seven went down, though Leon couldn’t help but feel a tinge of pride in seeing that none were dead, or even seriously injured.

Behind him came the rest of his retinue.

“It was just a coat room,” Valeria explained.

“Shoes for us,” Alix said.

“Follow me,” Leon ordered. “Leave these for the others.”

These people were disabled and he didn’t want to waste the time it would take to have them bound. With Narses’ people moving toward the broken-down front door, however, he could leave that part of this raid to them.

Leon and his retinue surged forward, deeper into the villa, taking room after room, and subduing another half dozen people. The villa only had about six bedrooms, so this was already quite a few people relative to the villa’s size. What made the place seem even shadier was the fact that it had almost no decorative furnishings, and the entire place was rather dirty, as if no one had bothered to clean in a while. There was even quite a bit of trash on the floors that no one had deigned to clean up.

As Leon’s retinue finished up with the second floor, they had yet to find anything resembling a ‘blood farm’, but they still had the cellar to go. Once they trooped down there—the other security personnel taking care of dealing with their seized prisoners as they did—they found something far more promising.

The cellar had clearly been designed to mostly just be a place for the residents to store wine, and indeed, there were a few big barrels of wine down there. However, through a combination of Leon’s thunder having shaken the villa and thrown things around down there, and some audible, though muffled shouting from behind a certain wall, they found that one of the largest wine barrels had been converted into a hidden door.

With a smile of glee at finding something hidden, Leon burst through the hidden door. It was a little more heavily reinforced than the doors above, but it still stood no chance of holding him back.

Two men had been holding the door shut, though, and when Leon kicked it down, they went flying. They were only second-tier, so as Leon appeared in the room with a flash of lightning, he knocked the two out with quick jolts and surveyed where he now found himself.

Unlike the villa above, which, while dirty and in dire need of maintenance, was still quite nice, this tunnel carved into the foundation was much rougher, little more than bare stone and dirt, with a few magic lanterns to light the way. The room itself was small, with little more than a table and two chairs for the guards, and the top of a staircase leading further down into the earth.

“Shit, underground shit,” Marcus cursed.

“We’re dealing with it,” Leon declared, despite his own dislike of the underground. Even Anzu, despite a few anxious chirps, folded his wings and narrowed his eyes in determination.

Sparing only the time to give his griffin a quick head pat, Leon launched himself down the stairs.

It wasn’t long before he reached the bottom. The stairs only went down about twenty feet, and opened into a long, relatively narrow chamber of rough stone, bisected by a single row of roughly-hewn stone columns.

All along the right wall were cheap chairs and tables. Sitting in the chairs were thin, pale people, none of whom looked happy, or strong in any sense of the word. Their arms were tied to the tables, upon which had been inscribed enchantments that drew blood out of their bodies and into nearby bowls. It was little more than a trickle for each person, but a rough count put Leon at no less than sixty people having their blood drawn.

A few people looked up in hope or fear as Leon’s people came barreling down the stairs, though none seemed like they had the energy to even sputter out a greeting—all probably suffering from having their blood constantly harvested for who knew how long. Only one close to the entrance was even able to look Leon in the eye and point to the left side of the long hall.

Seven more doors lined the left wall.

“Get clearing,” Leon ordered his people, and he ran for the nearest one. The people having their blood drawn didn’t seem like threats, so for the moment, he ignored them. What was more concerning was the fact that no one seemed to be monitoring them—though given how Loen had broken into the villa, he couldn’t blame them for having cut and run.

He burst into the first room while his retinue began breaking into others. Unfortunately, all that greeted him on the other side of the door was a small storage room with dozens of glass jars filled with blood—and very little of what he could see was mana. He guessed that this was probably the equivalent of low-grade food supplies for vampires given just how little magic power was contained in this stored blood.

Still, there was a lot of it, and he had to take a second to stare, estimating that there was enough here to represent thirty or forty full-grown men completely drained—enough to make a meal for hundreds of vampires.

Some shouting from outside pulled him back into the moment, and he ran outside to continue securing the rest of the hall. As he ran out, he was confronted by the sight of Alix and Gaius hauling three people out of the next room—more workers similar to the men above, if their lack of ostentatious dress and apparent youth were anything to go by.

These three were thrown down in front of Anzu, who froze them in fear with a single glare.

A moment later, they were joined by a fourth man, older and more well-dressed, dragged out of the third room by Valeria.

“Please!” the man shouted. “Please, I didn’t do anything wrong! Don’t hurt me!”

“Quiet,” Leon growled as Marcus and Alcander hauled two more men out of the fourth room. Both of them were relatively powerful, though not so well-dressed, so Leon assumed they were guards.

The last few rooms seemed to be offices, and when they were cleared, no more people were found. No exits were found either, or signs of recent use of earth magic. It seemed that they’d secured the villa.

“Sixty-four people were being held hostage down there,” Narses summarized as he, Leon, Valeria, and a small handful of Narses’ subcommanders met in the villa’s kitchen. “Twenty-one others were found on the premises. Three low-level enchanters to monitor the constant blood-draw from the hostages, eighteen guards, and one manager.”

“How much can we expect to squeeze out of them?” Leon asked as he glanced out of the nearest window into the front yard. There, all of those taken in the raid were being lined up and prepared for transport. The hostages, meanwhile, were being seen to by Marcus and Narses’ healers while they waited for more trained professionals to arrive.

“Enough,” Narses said with a predatory smile. “Men like these rarely know much outside of their own dealings, but they can often provide threads that, if pulled, will lead us to bigger targets. In this case, we found a damned gold mine down in those offices. Seems like they were poor criminals and kept a lot of their records and correspondence. Did you look at any of it?”

“Not yet.”

“Then it might come as a surprise that Rufus comes up quite a few times in them. It seems he visited this place rather frequently.”

“Really?” Leon asked in surprise. “Someone of his level coming here personally? And frequently enough to be noted with a cursory look through their records?”

“I know,” Narses said. “I can’t say why they kept these records, but they did. With this, we ought to have enough leverage to go after Rufus.”

Before anyone could celebrate, Valeria asked, “What are the chances that these records are fake? Just some kind of insurance policy to implicate higher-ups in Heaven’s Eye if something went wrong, or a false trail to throw us off the track of the real person operating this place?”

“A possibility,” Narses conceded, “and one that I’m not going to dismiss. My vampire hunt has only just begun, I assure you of that. However, what we know of Rufus is that he’s doing all he can to get in my way, and this evidence, fake or not, is enough for me to act against him.”

“For us to act against him,” Leon reminded Narses. “I’m not going to sit that one out.”

Narses smiled. “Good.”

“What about the Director? With this evidence, should we assume that he’s going to try and protect Rufus?”

“Anything’s possible,” Narses said. “I don’t know. We’ll have to remain alert; if the Director gets involved, then we’ll have a whole different situation on our hands.”

Leon nodded. “Is there a better time than the present to deal with this?”

Narses’ smile widened. “Give me a few hours. Then let’s go deal with this.”

Leon, flanked by Maia and the rest of his retinue, marched into the tower next to the Hexagon that housed Rufus’ office, the headquarters of Magical Research and Development. With him and his people were Narses and several hundred of Narses’ best security mages. The plan was simple: they were going to invade the tower and take Rufus into custody, and only then were they going to speak with the Director.

What they were doing could be considered rebellion. It certainly represented a tarnishing of the authority of the Director given they were acting entirely on their own, and they had no idea how he might react.

Given that the Director apparently needed his blood, though, Leon wasn’t overly concerned for himself. So, it was with a bold heart that he walked right through the atrium, past all of the tower’s guards, who seemed confused, but didn’t stand in his way. With Narses with him, he didn’t think they’d be interrupted at all on their way to Rufus’ office.

He wasn’t entirely correct in that assessment, as Rufus himself came out to meet them. Leon, Narses, and their closest comrades stepped off the magic lifts at the same time on the top floor of Rufus’ tower. The lifts went back down to pick up another load of security officers, being only large enough to take their entire force in several trips, leaving Leon and Narses accompanied only by a couple dozen mages as they stepped into the large top-floor atrium.

Rufus, on the other hand, had packed the palatial top floor with at least three or four times that number down in the top floor’s atrium behind the various secretaries’ desks, and lining the railing at the edge of the second-story mezzanine.

“It almost looks like you’re declaring war!” shouted the man leading them: Rufus himself, standing at the top of the stairs leading up to the mezzanine, decked out in glittering silver armor.

He was an older man, with gray hair and a receding hairline. His face was rather pudgy and bloated, with loose skin and many wrinkles. A looker he was not, but his body at least seemed fairly fit. Leon noted that he radiated the aura of an eighth-tier mage, and he couldn’t detect even a hint of demonic influence within it.

It seemed that for all that he was, Rufus was not a vampire himself.

“Rufus!” Narses shouted. “I’m placing you under arrest! Are you going to come quietly?”

Rufus smiled back and gave his response. “Fuck off!”

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