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Liza went in the first clothing store she could find, bought a set of children’s garments and returned to the inn. It was getting late and they all needed to buy new clothes afterwards anyway, so there was no point in buying all of Boro’s outfits straight away. The dragon put on his new garments and they continued enjoying the amenities of the high-class inn while discussing their future plans.

“What are we doing first thing tomorrow? Straight to the guild to get your information Liza?” asked Ben.

“No. There’s also a restriction based on rank for that information, remember? The first thing we ought to do is visit an alchemist’s store or their guild and buy a couple of strengthening elixirs. We need to power up! Then I can take a measurement test at the guild and advance ranks.”

“I remember when we talked about those! It took a lot of effort, but it’s finally our turn, huh? I wonder how it feels like…”

“How it feels? Painful, excruciatingly painful. Those elixirs work by brute forcing mana into your body and pressuring it to adapt the best it can, thus increasing your mana capacity and overall strength,” said Fang Chu.

“Okay, I’m not that eager to find out anymore.”

“I knew you’d say that,” she said with a smirk.

“On a serious note though, is it fine for me to drink it? Both in terms of my endurance as well as what you’re trying to achieve Fanu? Isn’t kind of cheating if I drank these potions? Would your sect accept the results of our hard work if we use these elixirs?”

“Of course, they would! These lower grade potions are standard for disciples and every one of them get a grade 1 and grade 2 elixir eventually. Only the higher-grade potions are more carefully handed and given to a chosen few. No need to worry there. Regarding your body, I guess we’ll have to make some adjustments in how we administer the dosages. It’ll probably take three grade 1 elixirs to bring you up to par with a normal person that drank a grade 1 potion.”

“I’m still that far behind…”

“Stop bringing yourself down, you’ll catch up in no time! You should look at how far you’ve come instead! You can almost take a good blow from me without fainting now,” she laughed.

They continued talking and fooling around till late at night. They were still riding the high of escaping a months’ long imprisonment and coming into riches, thus making them excitable and happy-go-lucky for most part.

The next morning, they searched for stores that sold alchemic goods, trying hard to find the elixirs they needed, but it was to no avail. All the stores cited the slow and steady dwindle of supply for the past year and how it was harder and harder to find them lately. Only a couple elixirs made to the shelves each month and they were gone almost instantly. With no other option, the group decided to go straight to the source, the alchemists’ guild.

The alchemists’ guild was the only major building in Kalafrana that had a single floor. That was by design, as all the experimentation, research and study was done in underground rooms, by order of the king. This change came about after a couple explosions destroyed the previous edifice and set fire to the nearby buildings.

The lobby of the guild consisted of an open space divided by a large counter where clerks worked. Behind them were countless shelves filled with bottles and other strange apparatus. A grand staircase led to the levels below where strange sounds came from every now and then. Liza and Ben patted Eliot’s back and gently pushed the young man towards a free clerk.

“Hello, we’d like to buy strengthening elixirs please,” announced Eliot. After he said his part, the young man turned his head around to see Liza and Ben giving him a thumbs up. That left him pleased.

“I’m sorry to say sir, but we’re out of strengthening elixirs at the moment.”

Huh, but I’d like to buy them,” replied Eliot feeling a bit lost.

“Do you know when more will become available? We’re willing to compensate you well,” said Liza coming to the rescue. As she talked, she grabbed a small pouch filled with gold coins and dropped it ontop of the counter.

The clerk opened the pouch and took a sneaky glance at what was inside. He then closed it and carefully pocketed it. Glancing around a few times to make sure no one was paying attention to them, he leaned closer and began talking in a low tone.

“All sales are supposed to be on a first come, first serve basis… but I’ll tell you what, I’m going to keep some of the next batch saved for you guys. How many do you need and what grades?”

“Four grade 1 elixirs and two grade 2. If you’ve any grade 3 we’d like to buy them as well.”

The clerk’s eyes widened and he was stunned for a moment. A single strengthening elixir was something few could afford and here was a group trying to buy several of them at once. Just how rich were them?

“Grade 3? That’s impossible. You’d need to bring the ingredients in yourself or have connections in high places to secure one. I’ll see what I can do about the other ones, but it will cost you a pretty penny.”

“Don’t worry, as long as you don’t go overboard, we’ve a deal.”

“The next batch will be ready in five days. Make sure to come back by then because I won’t be able to hold onto them indefinitely.”

Five days later, they completed the transaction and returned to their inn with the potions in hand. Liza and Ben lay down in bed and readied themselves for what was to come next.

“Are you guys comfortable? Your body will seize up after drinking it, so make sure you’re feeling okay right now,” said Fang Chu.

“I’m fine, but is it really okay for you, Eliot and Boro to not get any?” asked Liza.

“It would be useless, trust me. It would be like drinking juice to Eliot and Boro. As for me, I drank those long ago and there’s no point in it anymore…”

“I like juice though,” said Eliot.

“With lots of sugar,” added Boro.

“I’ll buy you two some later, for now let’s watch over them.”

“Well then, bottoms up!”

Liza and Ben chugged down on their respective elixirs. The half-elf was drinking hers in its entirety, while Ben was taking one third of his first elixir diluted with some herbs’ extracts. Their bodies tensed up immediately and theirs eyes turned bloodshot. They began to shake and tremble slightly, like they were having a small seizure. It was quite a scary sight for those watching.

They remained in this state for around twelve hours. As soon as it was over, their bodies relaxed and they fainted. Fang Chu, Eliot and Boro watched over them the entire time without taking a moment’s rest.

“All right, the first part went without a hitch. I’ll go grab us something to eat and grape juice for you two. They’ll probably wake up in a few hours. We can finally rest for a bit,” said the redhead.

Hours later, Liza and Ben woke up feeling rather weak and spent. They took a bath to get rid of the sweat and rested for the night. The group spent the next couple days inside the inn, as the duo went through a cycle of drinking the elixirs, suffering excruciating pain and then resting. Liza was done by the third day, but Ben needed to take it slower.

Argh, done! Finally! That was rather torturous, but I must say, the results are pretty good,” said Ben as he clenched his fists. He now felt like his body was bursting with energy. It was a wonderous feeling that was made even sweeter after all he endured to obtain it.

“Right? I went outside and shot my bow non-stop for a good while and my arms still felt completely fine! I knew these elixirs were good stuff, but seeing it by myself is certainly different,” said Liza.

“Congratulations you two, you’re now considered grade 2 warriors,” said Fang Chu.

“At long last I can finally get some clues about that bastard’s whereabouts…” whispered Liza.

Now that she reached all the pre-requisites, Liza rushed to the adventurers’ guild with everyone in tow. She talked with a clerk about the rank advancement and was guided to a private room after paying a fee. The advancement test was a simple one. All she needed to do was enter one of the guild’s magic formations and they’d be able to tell approximately how much mana she had in her body. Ben was somewhat disappointed by the procedure, as he expected a fight with a higher-ranking member or maybe a quest to slay a powerful monster. In the end though, he’d to admit that this way was much more practical and reasonable.

Without much surprise, Liza passed the evaluation and was now a Professional Adventurer in the guild. This was probably the highest she’d ever be able to climb in the ranks and her dog tag (as Ben called it) now had an additional symbol to represent her new standing.

“Congratulations on your promotion Miss Liza. Is there anything else I can do for you?” asked the clerk as she guided the half-elf back to the lobby.

“Almost six months ago I tried to buy a certain piece of information, but I didn’t have the funds nor the rank to make the purchase. Now that I’ve both, I look forward for good news.”

“Certainly, follow me please.”

Minutes later, they were seated in one of those familiar rooms on the second floor waiting for the information broker to arrive. Soon after, the same woman they’d dealt with last time entered the room with a servant carrying a tray with tea and refreshments in tow. She greeted everyone, sat down and waited for the servant to finish setting the table and take his leave. She was about to ask them what information they were after when a large pouch filled to the brim with gold landed in front of her.

“Eight hundred,” said Liza. A smaller pouch soon followed the first one. “And ten. Now tell me what I want to know!” Liza’s attitude was rude, but damn her if she didn’t feel good about it.

[Are you going to be snobbish now? Come on, start talking!]

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Norlum

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