So this was why this old man was wary and dissatisfied with him?
"Fred Mendez," showing none whatsoever politeness, he called out. "Is my immunity to your kind's attacks that much of an issue to you? You're most likely a level 9 so how come you haven't considered that I might be someone who time-traveled from another timeline and not merely sent by your opponents? Or are you thinking that my little time with her is not enough to prove my worth to her?"
Fred remained silent, his eyes still staring past Gio, absorbed in the tragic drama he himself had penned.
A sudden thought flashed across Gio's mind, thus he additionally asked, "Is this why you set up this whole thing, occupying the two of us with so much trouble until you staged my 'death' in front of her? You used a cleverly made clone, even going as far as to burn down a perfectly normal home just to make it look convincing?"
He watched as the man sighed, pulling his right hand out of his pocket. Something glimmering in soft blue light materialized in the air three inches above Fred's palm, looking like a beautifully polished sapphire.
Fred stared at its exquisite form for a while until it began to melt and change shape midair. Raising his head, he replied to Gio,
"Lad, I just want you to know, but your relationship with Conrad is the only thing keeping from killing you for spouting so much bullshit to my ears."
"I'm in no way thankful to your nonexistent kindness, Sir." Gio curtly replied, "Because you're doing all of these nonsensical things due to my relationship with Sofony."
"It seems you haven't realized that precisely because you know so much that I'm not at ease leaving you beside my daughter."
"Lad, are you really a non-host?"
Fred's gaze went back to him, Gio stayed quiet and listened.
"Normal Level 9s won't be able to hurt you. All we can do is trap you in this kind of realm. If we don't, you'll probably then be able to practically walk away with anything in the real world. With all these capabilities, aren't you the best assassin to kill immoral hosts? Who made you? No, you have real records since birth. No clone has a real-life account, I'm referring to people's histories that existed and could be dug by the system.... So I'm thinking you could only be someone under another high-level host like me. So who is it again?"
"Didn't I already tell you that I'm not a spy sent by anybody?"
"So if you are from the past or the future, who, then, is the stupid Level 10 fool who used one of his hard-earned wishes to send a mere non-host back in time?"
Gio wanted to tell the name so he could shut the man up, but something compelling and almighty prevented him from realizing this intention. Fred was right, he was not allowed to say the name, at least, not in answering this question.
Seeing Gio's lips tightly shut, Fred laughed in mockery, "Damn. Shouldn't have asked the last one. I'm a mere Level 9. Which of those f*ckers higher-leveled than me would ever give me the honor of being the subject to one of their wishes?"
'Even if sending a non-host to the past is considered stupidity, there is one who really did that.' Gio wanted to retort. However, the sudden cold flash of blue before him caught his attention, the scene he witnessed temporarily made him close his mouth and stare warily at the blue liquid-like object shimmering softly afloat the madman's hand.
Clearing his mind a bit, he realized that he didn't have any recollection or any acquired knowledge about the sapphire-like thing. Why was that and what was it? Why were his senses telling him to flee from there and not confront it?
Just then, he heard his name escape out of Fred's mouth. "Gio Albarez."
Their eyes met, Gio's promptly narrowed.
"I know I've been harsh and foul-mouthed to you these two days to the point that I don't know if you'll believe me that it's actually a calculated move. Anyway, what I want to say is that I don't trust you. People like us reached our positions today through storms of blades and blood. It's very hard to trust."
"I understand. After all, if even low-level hosts could massacre people, what more of those at the top."
Fred nodded. "Hence, I want to test you. Your appearance is so coincidental that it's making me reminisce some unpleasantly similar incidents from the past. You are too strong for a normal non-host. You must know that every person at my level would surely suspect whether you're a mole sent by someone."
Gio's eyes were glued to the now blue drop-shaped liquid floating steadily before him. His mind did not give him real alarm of dangers, but his chest felt so uncomfortable, and he didn't know why. He guessed that this thing was no good, and it was the reason behind the constrictions and few pangs of pain within his chest.
The older man also watched as the living ice made way to Conrad's nephew, in a serious voice he said,
"No matter what you are and your intentions are, for your uncle, I will try to be fair. Your fault lies in showing me your immunity. But at the same I know if you're not guilty, it means you don't really care being doubted since time and circumstances will gradually lessen my suspicions of you. I will give you a chance. To prove if you're really worthy of getting the affection of a Mendez. Whether you bear a grudge or not, I don't care. Anyway, even if you don't happen to be a spy, favor is a favor and I will have to fulfill it. In short, this will have to happen either way...."
"But don't worry, once this is over, the citywide hypnosis I've submerged this city in to rationalize why you're suddenly in that condo building instead your company will vanish by itself."
Gio inferred quite a few things from the other man's speech.
'So it's really uncle who requested for me to be separated from her?'
'What made him so afraid that he still couldn't believe I can survive?'
'And how can this man put so much thoughts in this when he couldn't even spare his daughter a single minute of his time?'
The young man was not aware that it was just Fred using the favor as an excuse to do this. Conrad was already out of the equation.
Gio felt his body froze, not liking being at the mercy of the man before him.
The blue drop now appeared more durable, colder, majestic, and 'alive', or maybe the ever-changing and moving patterns on it was just giving him that illusion. His eyes dilated when it magically turned into something akin to a small prison made purely of ice.
Gio's heart dropped. He could already guess what the man would be saying next.
Near the heap of coldness that seemingly wanted to freeze everything around him, including his heart, Fred Mendez stared at him with an empty expression on his face.
His eyes left no room for discussion. Gio was only a cornered rat under his mercy since even if he was not shoved into the strange ice prison, the man could just easily leave him in this frozen space and never let him out.
In a sense, Fred was really trying to be considerate given the fact that he could easily trap Conrad's nephew in this isolated, fake world.
But if Gio did as he was being told, it means accepting defeat. And defeat means separation.
He didn't even know how long it would last.
Just what kind of fucked up test is this?
He doesn't want it!
"So Gio Albarez," the voice resounded again. And Gio just badly wished he was deaf so he would never ever hear what he would say afterward, "Are you willing to undergo the real test?"
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