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A note from puddles4263

9/21

In the half-light immediately before dawn, Ed slipped down toward his bakery.

Ever since Randidly Ghosthound had returned to Donnyton, a strange note of excitement had filled the air. It had shifted the town from a confident city to an expectant teen who had sighted a crush. Everyone couldn’t help but gossip and giggle about what the Ghosthound would do next.

This became worse after the announcement of the challenge that would occur in thirteen days. Of course this had nothing to do with Ed, but still he grumbled about it constantly to Bekany. Because he was constantly exposed to talk about it. If he had to listen to even one more person speculate how much the Ghosthound had grown in his time away from Donnyton… Ed would drown that unlucky sod in shit.

A brutal way to die, but since realizing that he had participated in a lighthearted talk with Randidly Ghosthound without even noticing… Ed had felt strangely furious. And he had found strange ways to cope with that anger.

Luckily no one else was aware that, for several days before the meeting in the Observatory, Ed had sold crepes to Randidly at a discounted price because he liked the look of the boy. After thoroughly and vocally trashing the Ghosthound’s legacy and usefulness to Donnyton, it was abhorrent to Ed that the had so easily been seduced by the boys rather forthright directness. If someone else knew...

Perhaps… he approached me purposefully to grow close to me…? Ed thought suspiciously. It made sense. He was one of the most influential men in Donnyton, and the only one at the top that wasn’t already in the Ghosthound’s pocket. It made a certain strategic sense to target Ed, therefore, the most difficult to influence individual at the Donnyton ruling table… To think that that the boy was such a schemer… how disappointing.

Puffing his chest out confidently, Ed imagined the inevitable moment were Randidly approached him and begged him for assistance. It would feel absolutely divine to deny the boy then and bring all of Randidly’s careful manipulations to naught. But such was the prerogative of an honorable man such as Ed.

And such was the rush that Ed felt as he imagined this scenario was that it took him several seconds to recognize the situation around his bakery as he approached it this morning. When the reality of what he was seeing finally struck him, Ed slowed to a stop and frowned at the area in front of his door.

Three people were chatting there, rather relaxed in the pale early morning light. From their outfits, they had likely just come from a training session; all three wore armor indicating they were in the 93rd Squad of Donnyton. Unfortunately for those high numbered Squads, they were forced to practice at absolutely disgraceful hours in the training center due to their relative unimportance to the Village.

But what else could they do? Even Ed had signed off on the schedule without any fuss. There were simply too many other Squads that needed to use the training center. Some sacrifices had to be made.

Yet that failed to explain why they were here. In front of his bakery.

Hastily, Ed applied the illusion that removed his illustrious mustache and approached the group. Then he inwardly chided himself for wasting so much time without applying the illusion. Perhaps that was Randidly’s goal? To reveal his real identity…?

Would that fucker try and blackmail him then…? Heh, let the fool try it. Then Ed would drown him in shit.

With narrowed eyes, Ed approached the three. When they looked up, he forced his face to relax into a smile. “Can I help you?”

“Oh, you are the owner?” A young woman with straight orange hair asked. “I really love what you’ve done with the storefront. It just looked so inviting… and there have been pretty good rumors about this place too…”

“Ahem,” Ed coughed, scanning his storefront. It certainly did seem… inviting. But to wait for him to arrive because of a rumor and a paint color…?

Well, people like this were often very careless with money. Ed found it distasteful, but he didn’t mind when he was the one who took their money. That was honestly how Ed moved up in the hierarchy of Donnyton; he was simply willing to roll up his sleeves and work on the jobs that no one else wanted to do.

Or at least, that’s what he used to do. Now he hired Classers with low Levels to do it. Such was business.

Unlocking the door, Ed called out behind him. “Come on in! This is definitely the place you’ve heard about, only the finest baked goods are served here…”

Perhaps… should I come to the store a bit earlier tomorrow…? Ed wondered.

*****

As promised, Wendy Vuss had designed a flawless mechanism for a fully articulated arm and gave it to Randidly within twenty-four hours. In spite of himself, Randidly was impressed. Very quickly, he scanned through the plans. Then he winced.

For all that he had Spriggit’s Tinkering and Engineering Savvy, Randidly was very soon lost in the maze of intricate scrolls she had provided to him. In order to achieve the result of full articulation, Wendy’s plans called for hundreds of extremely small and intricate pieces to be fitted together into a cohesive whole. As Randidly forced himself to slog through the gritty details of the construction, he slowly was able to form an image of how it would work.

Yet… there were… a few problems with that.

“I don’t have the tools to make something like this,” Randidly said helplessly.

Wendy shrugged. They were standing in Wendy’s workroom, which was a low ceilinged cave at the top of the rodent warren the Spriggits occupied. At least there was light enough to see by. Within, she had several extremely sophisticated machines for melting and processing metals. “Is that my problem? I’ll even let you make it here in return for another favor.”

“...I don’t think it can be made it here…” Randidly said with a frown. He had been able to bring some things into his Soulskill, but his interspatial ring was not one of those items. Perhaps if he…. Well no, it wasn’t worth the effort. And without his interspatial ring, Randidly didn’t have access to any of the high-quality materials that he had kept with him for all this time.

For all that they had the technology here, they didn’t have the level of materials that Randidly was interested in using for his arm. What was the point of making a fabulously mobile arm if an average person from Donnyton could cut through the weak material of the limb? Engravings could only increase the metal’s toughness so much.

“No, these plans definitely need to be simplified,” Randidly said.

“That wasn’t part of the deal,” Wendy Vuss pointed out with a dismissive glance toward Randidly.

Randidly blinked. Then he frowned down at her. “You did this on purpose to extract additional compensation, didn’t you?”

Wendy shrugged. “You rode roughshod over me and gave me an ambiguous request because you wanted to pay me more, didn’t you?”

In spite of himself, Randidly snorted. “Alright, fine. I was a little… demanding in our previous negotiations. I was just feeling pressed for time. But I do still have almost a week to complete this. Based on how quickly you were able to finish the plans, that will be more than enough time to discuss suitable compensation and complete the work, yes?”

Wendy Vuss nodded smartly. “This is acceptable. Besides, in case you were dissatisfied, I had already settled on my counter demands.”

While Randidly watched with raised brows, Wendy walked over to the far side of her workroom and pulled a cover off of a chalkboard. Written there in large white letters were the following words:

FIVE HIGH LEVEL MONSTER CORPSES

“My final offer,” Wendy Vuss announced.

Randidly struggled to keep a straight face. “And what is the definition of High Level?”

The Spriggit woman regarded him with palpable suspicion for several seconds, as though sensing that there was something amiss with Randidly’s reaction. Her mind was locked in the task of doing some careful mental calculations. Once more, Randidly could practically hear the whirr of her gears behind Wendy Vuss’s eyes as she struggled to land on how much value she could extract from him.

“Level… Fifteen or higher,” Wendy Vuss finally spat out.

This time, Randidly failed to cover his snort. But he shook her hand and departed immediately.

In actuality, the request turned out to be more difficult than he had expected. Not because Randidly was slowed at all by monsters of that Level, but finding five monsters of that Level proved to be a challenge. He had to range pretty far from the settled lands in order to locate any.

Going was rough outside of the area cleared of mist, and even Randidly proceeded cautiously. But once he found a group, he quickly mopped them up and dragged the bodies back to Wendy’s lab.

With the grimacing face of someone who realized that they had been hoodwinked, Wendy accepted the bodies and asked Randidly what his requests for the new plans were.

Ah, you are certainly a genius, Randidly thought smugly as he was much more specific about what he wanted this time. But it’s a question of perspective. You likely hadn’t seen a monster above Level 10 before… to you, Level 15 seemed like an unavoidable disaster. But to me… well, that’s just child’s play.

After explaining, Randidly shook her head with a bright expression on his face. “Pleasure doing business with you, Wendy.”

Wendy grunted sourly.

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puddles4263

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