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Helen wanted to be sympathetic, but just couldn’t find it in herself to. So she just tilted her head to the side and asked. “Still sick?”

Teliph glared at her briefly, then suppressed the uneasy expression, keeping his face blank. “Unlike your exhaustion from earlier, Aether Poisoning doesn’t just go away after rest. Leave me in peace.”

Which of course, made Helen want very much to torture him, but she decided that she was in too good of a mood to bother with the stoic brute. After all, she also wanted to work on her own new moves.

But as she settled into her stance, she saw a small boat bobbing over towards their boat, and felt a flash of anger. There was only one person on board, but still…

“These motherfuckers…” Helen muttered, eyes scanning around. Divveltian was still sitting with his eyes closed, waving his fingers. The male spear attendant was rolling over to the side, fiddling with Tassles. It didn’t seem like Teliph would be able to get up soon. So with a great sigh, and a bit of worry that she still hadn’t recovered from her Aether shortage, Helen walked to the edge of the boat.

For a moment she considered throwing something to upend the tiny thing, but then she recognized the soft looking individual who was leisurely paddling towards them.

“Ah, Clappy.” Helen said lazily, almost disappointed. Sure, another fight would have been hard, but… she felt strange exhilarated by the thought of it, especially with her new Skill Set evolution. She tried to quell that urge, because it would likely get her into a fight she couldn’t win someday, but she didn’t try too hard. After a life of having her mother breathing down her neck, it was nice to feel on top of the world.

‘It would be even nicer to be on top the Ghosthound’ Her mind commented slyly, in her mother’s voice. She shushed it and focused on the approaching merchant.

His face brightened visibly when he saw her. “Oh! You are the woman who knows so much about leather. Good, I came to see the Ghosthound-”

“He’s fucking busy.” Helen said, her voice chilly, the delivery abrupt. It was an effort of will not to grind her teeth. This fucking merchant showed up, and what did he do? Instantly ruined her mood by reminding her of all those years with her hair and clothes permeated by the disgusting smell of the tannery.

It was impossible to breath in her childhood without catching some whiff of the occupation of her family. Some bore it as a mark of pride, but… those fucking asscocks were not the type of people she wanted to associate herself with. She had finally managed to shake that feeling of connection to that dirty, small minded place, but this piece of shit brought it all right back.

“Oh.” Claptrap seemed to wilt slightly, and then glanced to the side, where the Ghosthound was very clearly engraving. His face transformed into a look of horror. “He’s engraving?!?! RIght here, where anyone can see?”

Helen shrugged. They all knew academically that the Engraving Guilds were an issue, but it was very hard to focus on them as threats when other groups were actively attacking them. It was a matter of priorities. Although Helen was no longer sure why the Ghosthound so incessantly was Engraving. She wasn’t sure what he was doing with it, but it was pretty clear that he didn’t need the money.

It was surely useful to train a skill and gather PP from it, so you could go though your chosen path. But this seemed to be more than that.

The two of them hand been standing in silence for 30 seconds, her and Claptrap, so Helen added. “He fucking likes the feeling of the rain while Engraving. Is there a fucking problem?”

“Uh, ah, no. um. Okay, well please let him know that there will be a market day in two days, and I would appreciate if he could…. Or have you bring me any finished pieces he has made. I made an agreement with the Crashing Wave Style, and we will be selling some pieces publically. So… well yea.”

“Goodbye.” Helen said simply, enjoying the indecision on Claptrap’s face. It felt nice, in a way to be so dismissive of him-

But then Helen realized with a start that this was exactly the petty, small minded way of dealing with things that her mother would always employ. Flattering to her superiors, cold and disdainful to her inferiors. Helen’s anger rose up viciously and she had to grit her teeth to throttle it down.

“Uh… yes, I will tell him. Eventually. So don’t fucking worry. It’s annoying, but uh… not a problem.” Helen said lamely, almost blushing at herself. She had trained for years to handle things delicately, controlling her language and temper. Even if she had always raged on the inside, outwardly she was perfectly controlled. But these weeks with the Ghosthound and his teachers had ruined that. Her explosions had become more public. And admittedly less caustic and destructive, but…

She watched Claptrap leave, and then settled back into her stances.

****

Claptrap had a heavy heart as he walked to the market day. He had just come from visiting the ship of the Ghosthound. He was very leery about actually approaching the ship again, because he had heard the rumors that numerous smaller Styles had challenged the ship the past few days, aiming to lower the Tassles hanging proudly above the vessel.

It seemed that the group had been victorious, but when Claptrap had arrived, hoping to find more engraved armor, he had simply found an old man sitting on the boat, who ignored him at first, and as he asked more direct questions, had emanated such a vicious Battle Intent that all Claptrap could do was yelp and run away.

Honestly, Claptrap had held back some armor from the Crashing Wave Style, for just such a situation, where he couldn’t contact the Ghosthound. But he hadn’t wanted to use it so soon, and it was some of the higher efficacy armor that he had been saving.

Claptrap’s current funds were very high, so much so that he was almost dumbfounded by the amount that Dwei had given him for the previous batch that he had transferred. So much so that Claptrap felt confident he could work out strategies and inventory arrangements, that independent of the Ghosthound, could wipe Izzat off the map. The seed money he had always craved he finally had. Qtal was too small a pond for him anymore.

Based on the amount of money, it was clear to Claptrap that not all of the armor, or even a majority of it, was being used by the Crashing Wave Style. They were selling it, likely at a markup, to someone much larger and more influential. Which was both good and bad. Good because that meant Claptrap’s worry about how much demand this one Style could really have, wasn’t an issue. Bad, because a bigger entity meant that more people would know about the Engraving. And although the exposure was worse, using the Crashing Wave Style at a front meant they didn’t have an equivalent power to fall back on.

If the Engraver Guilds came…

And that was the other truth that was starting to hang over Claptrap’s head. With this much volume, it was not a matter of whether it would happen, but when. Very few people connected the Ghosthound, the spear user with the Tassle a color considered obscene by most, with the Engraved equipment. On the other hand, Claptrap’s name was all over it, and on the wagging tongues of the fellow merchants.

They would likely come for him first. And he had none of personal backing that the Ghosthound seemed to have.

Still, Claptrap climbed up through the coliseum, eventually reaching the larger chamber towards the top of the ring, which would once again serve to house the market day. As he checked his stand’s location, he was relieved to find that he had a much more sizable area to set up.

But what he found when he approached his area made his jaw drop.

There was a huge winding line to the stall next to his. It wasn’t just merchants, either. It was merchants and jostling warriors from rival Styles, proudly holding their Tassles aloft, glaring at each other.

One person at the front received a package and stepped to the side, breathing deeply the smells from the strange bag. The spear user pulled some sort of foodstuff out of bag and bit deeply into it, his eyes closing in a strange sort of rapture.

When the man moved, Claptrap could see that there was some strange apparatus set up behind the stall, and the new spear attendant of the Ghosthound, a man named Teliph, was standing with his arms crossed at the front of the stall.

“What is your order sir?” His voice was dry and bored, but carried a hint of power. The spear users who stepped up looking confident, blinking, examining Teliph more closely. He definitely gave off the vibe of being a powerful spear user. So why was he selling food…?

Claptrap shook his head and walked around behind and walked through the merchant’s alley to get around the aisle and get to his stall. When he arrived, he was once more flabbergasted. A huge pile of Engraved armor was left on the ground like it was spare leather, just sitting in his stall. With trembling hands he looked at once piece, and then another, and then another. All over 60% efficacy.

This… this was just as big as the batch he had given to Artisan Dwei a few days ago. The Ghosthound so quickly made more…?

“Dissatisfied?” Claptrap jumped, and spun around. Hiding behind Teliph and Helen, who were at the front of the counter, the Ghosthound stood, wearing an apron and using strange metal implements to manipulate the sizzling apparati that produced the food. He was…. Cooking…?

Claptrap’s mouth worked soundlessly for several seconds, but then the Ghosthound’s question hit him. “Ah, no, this is perfect. Thank you so much-”

“Don’t worry about it,” The Ghosthound said, turning away and working on other things. Claptrap blinked and then got to work sorting and piling everything on the counter in a more attractive manner. After all, he couldn’t dump treasures like these so wildly, although the Ghosthound was content to do so. It would be disrespectful.

“Ah, one more thing. Do you know what these are? I’ve been extracting them from the meat, and they work pretty well as seasonings, but…”

Turning, Claptrap found the Ghosthound offering him several glowing grey crystals. Claptrap choked, and began coughing wildly. The Ghosthound raised an eyebrow, but waited patiently as Claptrap struggled to reclaim his voice. “T-that…. Those are monster essences…. How did you…? It is rumored that it is only possible to refine those through a complicated process… which is controlled by the Alchemy Guild.”

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