Old Merlin appeared out of nowhere as Annan and Kafni were whispering in the corner of the main hall.
“Your Highness Annan.” Old Merlin whispered to Annan without looking at Kafni, “Your Royal Highness Dmitri is looking for you.”
His scraggy face showed no emotion.
His silent and indifferent aura were very similar to Dmitri’s.
Although they were similarly expressionless, there was a massive difference in their appearance and dressing. Dmitri gave off a formidable and majestic aura, whereas Merlin’s deeply sunken cheeks only made him seem like a horrifying beast.
In the Noah Kingdom, only a “soft warrant” would generally be imposed against Transcendeds who had broken the law.
It was to put the Transcendeds’ name on the wanted list and notify the officials but never to pursue them in brute force. However, the wanted person would be just like any other wanted criminal. They were not allowed to cross borders, borrow money, form their own families, nor enjoy the protection of the law.
They restricted these Transcendeds’ scope of activities by depriving those who had broken the law of their legal rights, providing a better-than-nothing form of punishment. Transcended troops would be dispatched for the hunt only when they had committed a serious crime.
In fact, this was a kind of compromise and tacit understanding— as long as you had the self-awareness of an undesirable, kept a low profile, and didn’t mess around, the kingdom would take it as if you and your crimes did not exist.
After all, the threat that would come from having a Transcended fight out of desperation was too significant. Plus, killing them would only leave a new Nightmare.
But it was different at Austere-Winter, especially during the winter years and the turbulent political environment — when the Austere-Winter’s Grand Duke was most anxious.
Also, the blizzard would have kept the detrimental effects of Transcendeds’ deaths to its minimum. Moreover, the population density of Austere-Winter Dukedom during the winter years was much smaller than that of Noah Kingdom.
So they wouldn’t make any compromises.
The special operations unit responsible for chasing down Transcendeds was the Winter’s Hand.
Even if the Transcendeds kidnapped ordinary people as hostages, the Winter’s Hand would never compromise in any way. Even if the Transcendeds kidnapped nobles or even people of the Austere-Winter family, they would completely ignore the safety of the hostages and kill the Transcendeds mercilessly.
The organization had relied on this ruthless and stringent mode of conduct of absolutely no exceptions nor negotiations to preserve the stability of the Austere-Winter Dukedom.
According to Annan’s knowledge, the current Austere-Winter’s Grand Duke… Annan’s father, Ivan Austere-Winter, had been kidnapped once when he was only a teenager.
It was a Transcended group of seven. There were four Silver, one Gold, one Bronze, and even a ritualist.
They kidnapped Ivan and his younger brother— of course, they couldn’t be asking for money.
Their purpose was to force Urie Austere-Winter, then Austere-Winter’s Grand Duke, to release a political prisoner.
The information delivered by Salvatore was vague; hence Annan was unable to find out the specific history and name of that political prisoner. It was only known that he was also an Austerian, even a nobleman who was later locked up as a political prisoner.
But even with his two sons kidnapped… Grand Duke Urie didn’t compromise with the kidnappers.
Grand Duke Urie sent troops to surround the target and negotiated for two days and three nights. When the kidnapper’s patience was finally about to run out… The Winter’s Hand troop broke in and attacked at lightning speed, killing six and taking one prisoner.
In this not-quite-successful rescue, Ivan’s younger brother unfortunately died.
——And the person in charge of this operation was Merlin.
But not only was he not held accountable for his failure to rescue the hostage, but he was instead credited for his decisive actions, successfully capturing one of the kidnappers and uncovering their conspiracy through interrogation.
According to Annan’s understanding in the Nightmare: White Tower, Merlin should have retired with a leg injury five years ago. In the beginning, Annan thought that Merlin was mute. Only until the end of White Tower did Annan see that Merlin had a tongue.
A regular Winter’s Hand would have their tongues cut off when they retire. The intelligence they knew was similar to occult knowledge, encrypted, and couldn’t be written down. They could only be passed on verbally for a limited number of times.
The best way to deal with it was by cutting tongues off.
But by the looks of it, Merlin must have gotten some special privilege and retained his ability to speak.
He had even gained the trust of Grand Duke Ivan to protect Annan and Dmitri on their trip to the Noah Kingdom.
Did Grand Duke Ivan have no feelings for his brother?
Regarding Dmitri’s case, this was unlikely.
Annan speculated that this was because Grand Duke Ivan trusted Merlin greatly.
Why exactly would a Silver Rank Falteration Wizard be so trusted by the Grand Duke?
It wasn’t that the Austere-Winter Dukedom did not have any Gold Rank talent, they had several.
But Merlin was the highest-ranking Transcended in this escort team that followed Dmitri’s group to Noah by train.
It was a pity that Annan didn’t see Merlin’s full strength in the White Tower.
He decrypted the dungeon too quickly.
Annan still didn’t even know what Merlin’s curses were.
Presumably, Dmitri and the original Annan should know something.
Annan vaguely realized that if he could not successfully conquer this nightmare with his power alone, he would have to find some way to borrow Merlin’s strength.
But how could he get Merlin’s assistance without having to reveal his identity? And how much strength did Merlin roughly have?
Many thoughts flashed through Annan’s mind.
He quickly figured out a solution.
He stood up and nodded silently.
Annan gave Kafni a look, signaling her to stay here.
Kafni looked at Annan seriously and signaled that she understood.
She knew what Annan was going to do this time—
Three minutes ago, Annan said to Kafni, “I need to go to those six places. But I can’t escape Merlin’s tailgating… I need your help.”
“…?” Kafni tilted her head silently.
She didn’t know exactly what kind of help Annan needed.
Thus, Annan explained his plan to Kafni.
He needed Kafni to take him into a private room with a secret passage. Annan would then leave from the other side through the secret passage. During this time, Kafni had to pretend that Annan was still in the room until Annan came back.
It was easy to find a private room like that.
Kafni was ultimately a princess.
Her own room met all of the above requirements.
Annan was a little worried if Kafni, as a child, would understand his plans.
Another concern was… as a stranger of the opposite sex she had just met— would Kafni be willing to bring Annan into her room?
But Kafni finally agreed after hesitating for a while.
Then the rest of the question was left for Annan.
Annan got up, tidied his clothes, and followed Old Merlin to Dmitri.
He wanted to request a leave of absence from his brother, Dmitri.
To let him know… he was going to a more private place with Kafni; and to convince him that he did not need Merlin’s accompaniment.
…Things are getting complicated.
Credits to MindMatrix for editing this chapter and improving the readability.
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