It could be said that the outcome of this meeting was an 'unhappy resolution.'
All the scholars at this meeting could feel the sudden change in the atmosphere, akin to an impending storm.
No one had dared express their opinions on Maria's provocative proposal, so Maria had just come to a decision on this matter. The other reports by scholars in this meeting were done in trepidation and everyone left in a hurry after it ended, afraid to be sandwiched between the wrath of two Supreme-ranks.
Maria returned to her office that had been empty for a long time.
The quiet office was exactly how she left it, but there wasn't a single speck of dust, so someone must have cleaned it regularly. Maria looked around and didn't sense any lingering traces of aether either.
Naturally, Maria wouldn't leave any confidential material in an obvious place like her office, but it didn't mean that there wouldn't be fools trying to sneak in.
Seated in her chair, Maria reminisced the days where this place was practically covered in dust. She picked up and flipped open Somaya's long and comprehensive report, skimming through the information about the bookstore owner over and over while rapidly connecting the dots.
The expected knock on the door didn't interrupt her train of thought.
"Come in," Maria said, looking at the person who entered. Then she shut the report and adjusted her glasses, revealing a relaxed smile. "I was wondering who it might be... My dear little nephew, it's been a while."
The young man who walked was Maria's only nephew—Hood. Everyone in the Truth Union knew that he was a privileged second-generation who used his connections to do whatever he wanted.
Maria got up and hugged Hood affectionately as he approached.
It was obvious how much she doted on Hood by the way she treated Hood given her status and the fact that she had now advanced to Supreme-rank.
Hood returned the warm hug and said excitedly, "Aunt Maria, welcome back!"
Maria reached out and rubbed his head. "Did you study hard while I was gone?" she asked gently.
"Mmm." Hood raised his head confidently and chuckled. But his face then turned serious. "You underestimate me, Aunt. I'm very different from before."
"Is that so?" Maria revealed a rare warm smile. "I've heard that you've lots of insights on many issues within the Union and have gained the approval of many fellow scholars. And also that you have a group of good companions?"
"Of course!" Hood lifted his chin and said with certainty. "We're all like-minded comrades!"
"Like-minded comrades..." Maria's heart fell as an ominous feeling came over her. However, she kept on smiling. "What sort of like-mindedness? Why don't you tell Aunt all about it?"
"Of course! That's what I came to talk with you about, Aunt Maria."
Hood had said this rather casually. Then his warm gaze slowly became strangely fanatical as he uttered in a low voice as if reciting a prayer, "We will always believe in the omniscience and omnipotence of the bookstore owner—Mr. Lin."
The smile froze on Maria's face. She stopped midway in the motion of pushing her glasses up as if she had turned into a statue.
She stared at the close family member before her, but he had an expression that was totally unfamiliar, causing a chill to run up her spine.
Maria was silent for a moment, then she sucked in a deep breath. When her land was finally lowered, the expression on her face was dead serious.
This was a look that had always frightened Hood since he was young.
Maria always had this same expression whenever he got into trouble.
"I think you… haven't grown up yet," Maria uttered. "There were outsiders just now with eyes and ears among them, so it wasn't convenient for me to say it. Now that it's only you and me, my nephew, I think it's necessary to make things clear.
"That Lin Jie... can't be trusted..."
"Nonsense!!!" Hood erupted with rage and slammed his palm on Maria's desk. He spread his hands wide, eyes filled with rabid fanaticism as he said through gritted teeth, "Boss Lin is our one and only—"
Midway through his sentence, Hood saw the look on Maria's face and suddenly realized how outrageous his actions were.
His rationality prevailed, telling him that the person before him was the elder he most respected and loved.
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"Sorry. Sorry, Aunt."
It was as if he had become a totally different person. He withdrew his hands and stood there at a loss.
Maria got up and patted her nephew on the shoulder. "It's alright. Calm down, Hood, I can see it. You're just being controlled by that Boss Lim. As long—"
Hood's guilty expression instantly turned feral the moment she said that, as if something within him had been triggered. He slapped Maria's hand aside and sneered, "You don't understand at all! Ignorant fool! Boss Lin is here to save us all! He gave us a new life! Without him, we would never escape the mire of 'truth' nor understand that one's own wisdom is true power!"
Maria's wrist hurt from Hood's slap. Hearing all this, her expression turned especially austere as the faint pressurizing aura of a Supreme-rank started to fill the room.
Hood had grown up adoring and being terrified of his Aunt Maria. That stern look of hers often came with a storm of criticism that practically made him reflexive.
He had just retorted when Maria's gaze frightened him once again. He quickly backed away and subconsciously hung his head. "I'm sorry, Aunt. I'm sorry. I mean... I mean, you shouldn't have said that... His greatness can't be doubted."
At the same time, his face subconsciously turned malevolent once more. His brows especially were tightly furrowed and squirming as if something was about to burst out from beneath the skin.
Seeing the pained expression of Hood stunned Maria as she suddenly recalled the people she had seen in the Lower District—if those things could still be called human...
Based on her investigation results and what she had seen and heard in the past few months, all of them were in a similar situation as Hood was now. First, their brains began to mutate, completely changing their cognition and rationale. Then, even their bodies would unknowingly become nutrients for the darkness. And eventually their bodies and minds started changing, so they were no longer themselves but a part of the darkness.
Maria slowly turned away. She didn't want to look at Hood's unsightly state that even she was unable to control. "Look at you, Hood," she said grimly. "If that's how you grew up, I'd rather you stayed in the past.
"I must tell you this. Lin Jie, this Boss Lin you keep going about, is just a liar. He isn't a god!"
Hood's head buzzed.
Disrespect… Disrespectful… How can you be so disrespectful to a god?!
Hood's third eye on his glabella snapped open as he suddenly drew a dagger from his sleeve and charged toward Maria.
Maria took a deep breath. Without even turning back, she invoked her Supreme-rank power.
Hood was instantly within her control. However, Maria was still a tad slow. The dagger thrust forward without any hesitation and sliced off several strands of her long black hair.
Had Maria not dodged, her physical body, the weakest part of a Supreme-rank scholar, would have been seriously injured.
The sadness and anger that had briefly existed in Maria's eyes disappeared. When she saw that Hood was still trying to charge her with that sinister glint in his eyes, she sighed and raised her hand for a gentle swipe.
Hood screamed and fell to the ground, blood spurting out everywhere. Maria had cut off one of his arms.
All of this happened in a short space of time. It was as if some thin-skinned tubed had been torn open completely and many squirming tentacles extended out from the smooth cut. It appeared that Hood's body seemed to have become the nest of some soft-bodied creature.
What… What is this?! Images of some things she had seen in the Lower District came flooding back.
Seeing these things made her actually feel like throwing up for the first time in a very long while.
This was the first time she felt this way since becoming a Supreme-rank.
Hood wailed in pain on the ground. Maria had a look of pity, but the situation made her actually feel helpless.
"I won't give up on you, Hood. Aunt will treat you," muttered Maria as she pulled out a tube of clear fluid medication from within her pocket and swiftly plunged it into Hood's neck.
Like a sedated beast, Hood slowly calmed down and lost consciousness. However, that arm seemed to have a mind of its own as the tentacled appendage continued to thrash about. Hood's third eye didn't close either as it kept staring intently at Maria.
Maria surveyed the mess in her office and clenched her fist tightly. "Bookstore owner, I will uncover who you really are..."
Yet another series of knocking interrupted Maria's thoughts. Before Maria said to come on, the person on the other end had unceremoniously pushed the door open.
The door was pulled open a crack, and Maria saw that familiar and disgusting face peek in.
"This doesn't look good, esteemed Chairman Maria," Andrew said warmly. "Would you like me to help?"
Maria set aside the false facade she had used early and demanded, "Was it you that put my nephew in contact with that bookstore owner?"
"No, no, no. You've wronged me." Andrew said with a smile as he let himself into the brightly-lit office. "Hood came into contact with Boss Lin himself—all this before I was forgiven—and then he was chosen. This is something you ought to be proud and happy about."
Maria's eyes narrowed. She was livid but still stood firmly in place and exerted her Supreme-rank pressure on Andrew.
Andrew's body started trembling. He gritted his teeth and forced a smile. "So what if you're already a Supreme-rank? You're merely a slightly bigger ant to Boss Lin. My advice for you is to give up. You can never defeat us, because he wants us to win."
Maria stuffed her hands into the lab coat pockets and walked over to her desk while scoffing, "Is that so?"
Then she casually took out a tattered notebook from the drawer and waved it in front of Andrew, revealing a provocative gaze underneath the reflection of her glasses.
"You seem fearless, but I heard that the bookstore owner protected a smuggler for a similar notebook some time ago. I believe that he must be rather interested in this. Say, do you think he will support you or me when the time comes?"