A huge headache threatened to engulf Ves. When he planned to go on a tour through the star sector, he never expected to confront one of his latent fears in the first leg of his journey!
What was the chance of meeting an agent of Five Scrolls Compact? Extremely low. Yet Ves inadvertently bumped into one just because he wanted to find a personal guard!
To hear that the secretive and mysterious Order of Fl'xix in the Kinner Tribe was actually another splinter organization of the Five Scrolls Compact shocked him immensely.
It made him wonder how many other assets the Compact inserted into other states. Did the Bright Republic have its own branch of the notorious organization?
A shudder went through his back.
Right now, Ves faced a huge dilemma. On the surface, Fe Nitaa spoke truthfully. She expressed complete willingness to place his own interests over the Order of Fl'xix and the Five Scrolls Compact.
According to her, the will of the Holy Sons and Daughters trumped above all. This instruction had been hammered into her over and over again. They were the figureheads of the Compact and the absolute authorities of the expansive cult.
Evidently, despite the immense size of the organization and its loose, cell-like structure, the leadership at the top was very centralized.
The Holy Sons and Daughters had absolute say.
Yet when Fe Nitaa and the other prospective members of the order swore their Kinner oaths, her teachers made a small oversight.
Her first and most important priority is to revere and obey the instructions of the Holy Sons and Daughters.
Her second priority was to revere and obey the instructions of the brothers and sisters of the Five Scrolls Compact.
Her third priority was to obey the instructions of her superiors in the Order of Fl'xix.
The hierarchy here was crystal clear. The Holy Sons and Daughters held absolute control. Their direct instructions superseded every existing arrangement.
Yet these simple instructions came with a very significant hole. It was a mistake typically made in programming where the programmer in question failed to account for an unlikely but faintly possible scenario.
What if the Holy Son or Holy Daughter did not belong to the Compact? What if they were enemies?
The brothers and sisters of the Compact should have known that some of the Scrolls landed in the hands of others. In particular, the CFA and MTA should have obtained the Fire Scroll when they supposedly rebelled against the secretive organization that used to control humanity behind the scenes.
Ves decided to ask this question directly.
"Fe Nitaa. Your instructions supposedly compel you to obey a Holy Son over the rest of the Compact. I understand that the implication of this instruction is that a Holy Son or Daughter is always a part of the Compact, but what if this is not the case, like now?"
A short silence stretched.
"I.. I do not think the leaders of our order ever contemplated this possibility. We hear very little about the core secrets of the Compact. To be honest, this is the first time I've learnt that a Holy Son exists that is not aligned with the Compact!"
After a brief round of questioning, Ves clarified the situation a little.
The Order of Fl'xix may be an influential organization in the Kinner Tribe, but it was a non-entity in the larger scheme of things.
The Kinner Tribe was one of the smaller and weaker third-rate states in the star sector. The Komodo Star Sector itself was one of the most remote and underdeveloped star sectors in human space.
To a behemoth like the Five Scrolls Compact which was likely the third-most powerful trans-galactic organization in human space, how much attention did they really pay to their cat's paws?
Perhaps not even the regional leaders of the Compact in the star sector knew the order even existed!
From what Ves could surmise from his prior encounters, the Compact operated an extensive network of offshoot organizations.
The Church of Haatumak, the Angel's Wing Foundation and now the Order of Fl'xix. All of these organizations and more served as the low-cost eyes and ears of the Compact.
Their loose, distant and indirect connection to the Compact turned them into disposable entities that could instantly be cut off whenever they became exposed.
It was also due to their low importance that the Compact never filled them in with all of the core secrets of the cult!
Ves tested this out by asking her whether she knew the whereabouts of the Fire Scroll.
"I don't know. Such information is never passed to lowly ones like me." Fe Nitaa shook her head. "My fellow trainees and I always presumed they were safely in the hands of the Holy Sons and Daughters hiding in the galactic center. There was no conceivable way we would ever suspect that the most eminent leaders of the Compact would ever stray into the galactic rim!"
So his guess was right! The Order of Fl'xix or at least their trainees never knew that the Compact lost most of its Sacred Scrolls!
While this was a major oversight on the part of the Compact, in practice it was unlikely to bite them in the butt. What were the odds this unimportant order would ever come into contact with the Holy Son of an enemy faction?
It was too ridiculous to contemplate!
A combination of laziness, excessive secrecy and lack of investment meant that the Order of Fl'xix had never been prepared to face an existence like Ves!
Certainly, due to the persecution of the Big Two, the Five Scrolls Compact was forced to adopt a decentralized, cell-like organizational structure throughout the galaxy.
It established numerous regional cells, each of which would not harm the main organization if they ever got uprooted by the relentless hunters of the MTA and CFA.
These cells in turn set up their own cells throughout the star sectors they occupied in the form of offshoot or splinter organizations. The additional layer of disconnect meant that these disguised organizations lacked much of the knowledge that a typical brother and sister of the Compact possessed.
"Has the Compact truly never thought about instructing the order and other offshoot organizations of the existence of enemy Holy Sons?" Ves frowned.
Nitaa shook her head. She stopped supplicating completely, but still remained on her knees. "From what I've learned from my basic teachings about the Compact, the Sacred Scrolls are more than scrolls. Their material forms are just containers of an immensely powerful artifact that is capable of thinking for itself! They have always chosen their Holy Sons from among the Compact!"
This was a very interesting detail! If true, that meant that even if the CFA and MTA got their hands on a scroll, it might not be a given that they would have their own Holy Son!
As for the claim that the Scrolls were self-thinking, Ves already accepted it. The System's very existence confirmed it. Perhaps the only point of doubt was why the System did not seem so eager to reunite with the Compact.
That was a question for another day.
He turned to another issue that caused him to feel some doubt. "For someone who knows so little, you still managed to determine that I'm a Holy Son. Earlier, you said you received a message in your mind. What was that all about?"
"When I turned my attention to you back when I was at the sparring ring, I directed the senses of my special nose at you. I immediately encountered a very strange and overpowering presence that was mixed in your scent. As I explored it further, I received a direct message in my mind. It told me that you were a Holy Son."
Ves frowned. "Directly? In plain standard language?"
She nodded. "The message was loud and clear. It left no room for doubt."
Another grimace appeared on his face. He sure did not transmit such messages himself, and Lucky would never pull off a stunt like that. This left only one remaining self-thinking entity on his person who could have conveyed this very message.
For all these years, Ves had grown used to the System's inaction. It seemed content to act out the role of an impersonal, passive virtual interface.
He treated the System like a virtual shop front, essentially. As long as Ves did not spend his DP, he always assumed the System went dormant and never acted out on its own initiative.
This time was different. If his suspicions were correct, then the System proactively reached out to Fe Nitaa, directly spilling one of its user's secrets!
The worst part about it was that the System acted without his express consent!
The thought of it made him want to tear his hair out!
It was as if the Barracuda suddenly gained a mind of her own decided to crash into the sun instead of existing a star system!
Ves could not blame the System for acting against his own interest. This time, it probably did the both of them a huge favor!
Yet just because he benefited this time did not mean the next time would be the same.
Ves always believed the System never acted in his interest. Instead, it pursued its own goals!
For now, both of their goals aligned with each other, but how long would it last? One day, decades or centuries from now, their priorities might diverge. What would happen then?
He would have to be stronger than the System by the time this fateful moment took place. Otherwise, he could forget about surviving the System's betrayal!
Whether the System would ever do so, Ves didn't know, but he never discounted the possibility that the worst might happen one day! His paranoia didn't allow him to dismiss this potential threat!
"What a headache." He shook his head and turned his attention back to the present. "Okay, I understand what went on. It seems my disobedient little 'Sacred Scroll' decided to spill the beans."
The worship in Fe Nitaa's eyes intensified. How could she not revere him?! Each Sacred Scroll was a mythical entity that lowly ones like her would never have the privilege to be in contact with in their lives! To encounter a Holy Son in the wild all of a sudden uprooted all of her assumptions!
Though Ves wasn't sure yet whether Nitaa told the truth and sincerely cooperated with him, he became more inclined to believe him. The System wouldn't reach out to someone at random.
In effect, Nitaa already carried the System's seal of approval.
That wasn't quite enough for him, though, considering that Ves didn't fully trust it in the first place.
He turned to Lucky, who had always remained alert and onguard in the air ever since Ves became distressed.
"Lucky? What do you think about Nitaa? Do you think she tried to deceive me in any way?"
Even Lucky vouched for Nitaa's honestly, which was a huge point in her favor. Although he couldn't explain why, Ves trusted Lucky more than the System!
With all signs pointing out that Nitaa was being honest, Ves finally let down his guard a bit.
He reluctantly embraced the assumption that Nitaa was just as she said, a former member of a splinter organization of a regional cell of the Five Scrolls Compact.
"Tell me one thing, Nitaa. Are more people capable of sniffing me out?"
"I don't know the answer to that question, Your Holiness." She shook her head. "The experiment was so unsuccessful that the visiting Compact researcher aborted it when it kept producing failures. In truth.. he may have been too impatient. A year after the experiment, my nose transformed. By concentrating my mind on my nose, I managed to empower it in some way that allows me to smell scents that I never knew existed!"
This may have been the ultimate goal of the experiment! The Five Scrolls Compact may have wanted to develop a nose like the one that Nitaa possessed in order to track down the Metal Scroll, which they might have suspected hadn't been destroyed at all!
Though the researcher presumed the experiment failed, what if that wasn't true? What if other survivors of the experiment like Fe Nitaa possessed the same ability?
Also, the Compact researcher was just one among many. What if other brothers and sisters of the Compact engaged in similar research? What if one of them succeeded?
Perhaps right now, the Compact might be spreading human bloodhounds throughout the entire region in order to catch him in a net!