Lith spent his morning visiting the small bookshops located in the city\'s middle rim.
Othre was divided into three areas.
The outer rim, where Lith resided, was the biggest and the poorest one.
It was where the commoners lived and the warehouses were located.
Unless one possessed many dimensional items, moving huge loads of merchandise required wagons and draft animals.
The former generated intense traffic that made it almost impossible to walk during the busiest hours of the day despite the large roads and sidewalks.
The latter naturally produced a pungent smell that would make even a stable boy puke his guts out.
The houses were one or two stories high, made of stone or wood based on the owner\'s income.
There was not a single empty space between them.
Warehouses were easily recognizable by their huge size and double doors to allow carriages to easily get in and out at all times.
The closest a warehouse was to the city gates, the more expensive it was, whereas for housings the opposite was true.
The smell was a big deterrent, that was why Lith\'s hotel was located in a small street were carriages couldn\'t pass, away from the warehouses.
The middle rim was occupied by merchants\' shops, craftsmen\'s and artists\' workshops.
Only the middle class could afford a house there.
They were all at least two stories high, each with a private garden.
The middle rim\'s streets were too narrow for carriages, only stagecoaches were small enough to pass.
Small parks were present every few blocks, to give some space for the children to play and a place for the travelers to rest in the shade of trees during the hottest hours of the day.
The inner rim was where the rich, the nobles, and the mages resided.
There weren\'t houses as much as mansions.
Unlike Belius, the taller a building, the richer was the household.
Lith avoided big shops because they had the necessary staff to go through all their merchandise.
They were bound to identify real books about magic and sell them to the Association that held the monopoly of the mystical knowledge.
Small shops, instead, would buy more books than they could handle.
With a bit of luck, one could find a precious tome cataloged as a diary or even in the bargain bin.
Many mages mixed research and personal life in their writings, others used such convoluted technical jargon that a layman would easily mistake it for gibberish.
It was the reason why unless those books had some drawings, no one would give them a second look.
Lith could only once again curse at the city arrays when his communication amulet interrupted his fruitless research.
Normally, he would store a book in Soluspedia and search its contents in an instant before deciding if it was worth buying or not.
The dimensional magic lock forced him to actually read them one by one in what he considered a colossal waste of time.
The first call came from the army.
Kamila notified Lith that the Commander had agreed with the Association\'s terms and ordered him to talk with their representative.
The second one was from Mage Dorian Felhorn, who gave him an appointment at the local branch of the Mage Association, located in the inner rim.
The building consisted of a three stories small castle built with reddish stones.
Each of its four corners was occupied by a small tower surmounted with a blue mana crystal.
A middle aged clerk led Lith in an office located on the ground floor.
The room\'s walls were covered by bookshelves, the only source of lighting was a magical chandelier hung in the middle of the ceiling.
Dorian welcomed Lith and invited him to sit on one of the armchairs in front of his black mahogany desk.
To Lith Dorian said: First of all, know that you are currently relieved from your role in the army until the end of the conversation.
I\'m not speaking with the Ranger, but with the Great Mage.
Why am I here Lith asked while feeling more comfortable.
The Association worked on a voluntary basis.
They couldn\'t order around members that didn\'t seek an active role in their ranks.
Dorian explained to him the reasons for the Association\'s decline and how they hoped to solve Othre\'s current crisis to avoid being swallowed by the army.
That\'s the reason you need me. Lith shook his head.
I am asking you why I should accept.
Dorian had yet to explain the nature of the crisis and felt already up against a wall.
The Association could award merits, not money and Lith had no use for them.
The knowledge he sought needed the approval of both the army and the Association.
He had already earned the necessary clearance level from the Association\'s side, which left them with a bad hand.
Merits could be traded in exchange for noble titles and their connected lands.
Usually, they were the Association\'s greatest bargain chip.
Unluckily, Lith had already refused a noble title twice, so offering him one was meaningless.
They couldn\'t afford to offer him money off the books.
If exposed, the scandal would bury them for good.
\'He doesn\'t care for the power balance in the Kingdom.
Judging from the invoice he submitted for healing innocents and how he left a dozen of people stuck in the concrete for hours, I\'d say there is no better nature I can appeal to.\' Dorian inwardly sighed.
\'It\'s time to let the dragon know we have his egg.\'
The situation is dire.
Countless lives are at stake and if the news of it spreads, panic could make more victims than our invisible enemy.
Someone is killing people for unknown reasons.
We have lots of corpses but so far we\'ve failed to understand what\'s happening.
If you refuse to answer, then I\'ll take my leave. Lith stood up, tired of hearing nonsense.
We need the best diagnosticians in the Kingdom. Dorian grabbed Lith\'s arm and felt his hostility growing.
A saner man would have jumped away, but Felhorn had no qualms putting his life on the line.
That\'s why we have hired Professor Manohar from the White Griffon… Lith freed his arm and walked away.
…and Mage Verhen as his assistant. Those words froze Lith in place and with him the mana in the room.
What did you say There was no rage in his voice, yet the room felt colder and the lights dimmed like a setting sun.
Mage Tista Verhen volunteered the moment she heard about the situation.
If I\'m right, there is a monster hiding inside the walls of Othre.
If I\'m wrong, we could be facing another plague. Dorian put emphasis in each of his words yet he could tell that Lith wasn\'t listening.
After a few seconds of awkward silence, Lith clapped his hands while a creepy smile appeared on his face.
Now I only have two choices.
Either I walk away, leaving my sister in the hands of an incompetent paper pusher and a madman, or I help you.
I accept the job.
Beware, though, because this kind of tricks only works once.
Once I explain Tista how you manipulated her, I can guarantee you that neither of us will ever help the Association again.
Also, now I know what to ask the next time the King wants to award me with something.
Lith slowly passed his thumb along his neck before slamming the door behind his back and alerting his handler he wouldn\'t leave Othre for a while.