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A note from YesorNo

[6400 words.]

Events take place between Vol 15 ch 4 and 5.

{Canon but won't appear in main text}

...

The Capital was an interesting place, thought Deimos as the five of them piled into an elevator to the lower Sectors. There were several of these contraptions scattered all over the place along with more mundane staircases to the underground half of the city.

She hadn’t seen anything like it before. The Capital was a treasure trove of new things in every direction you looked.

If the novel three-dimensional style of architecture wasn’t enough, the eclectic styles of clothing worn by the people was enough to shock their senses. The Capital was a potpourri of Bestia species and fashions in a constant state of flux. Never in her life had she seen so many Pluma flying in the sky. She even saw one with the leathery wings of a bat. A petite, dark-haired boy with a white cloth tied around his eyes. Despite his blindfold, he never touched a single obstacle while flying around.

Everyone on the streets seemed busy, everyone seemed to have a destination they had to reach, and everyone seemed pressed for time.

Deimos quite liked the colourful energy of the bustling city. As someone who had spent most of her life inside the walls of the Felidae Estate, this influx of stimuli was a little overwhelming. She was experiencing culture shock and she wasn’t alone in this matter. Phi-Phi, Ceres and Master were all wide eyed and open-mouthed - their heads spinning like tops as they took it all in.

They might have experienced the Calamity, but that and this were two entirely different, albeit equally hectic, situations.

The main draw of the Wind Sector, according to Lara, was the Emporium. As the commercial sector of the capital, it had the largest agglomeration of retail stores selling everything from groceries to apparel to magical appliances.

The three hours after lunch had been spent there upgrading their clothing to better ‘fit in with the atmosphere’ as Lara had put it. Their entirely new sets of clothing and the bags stored in Phobos’ shadow were testament to their shopping spree.

After they all entered the elevator, Master went forward and pulled the horizontal shutter-style metallic door closed before turning to study the controls. He beckoned for her to approach and when she did, he indicated towards two palm-prints inscribed into one of the wooden walls of the compartment.

“We need to pour some mana into this impression,” he said, pointing at the one which had the word ‘descend’ inscribed under it. “It says wind and earth mana are the preferred types. Deimos, you try.”

Curious, she placed her palm flush with the imprint and let some of her mana flow into it. Intricate markings lit up on the walls of the elevator and the entire thing began to move downwards with a jerk. She watched Master close his eyes as he started studying the mechanism behind it with that odd mana sense of his.

Picking up on what he was doing, Ceres turned to Lara and asked, “How does this elevator work? We don’t have anything like this back home. It’d save us from taking the stairs.” She turned to Deimos and chuckled. “And it’d save sister Deimos here the trouble of leaping out of windows all the time.”

Deimos couldn't help but feel bashful as she focused her attention on keeping the mana-flow and therefore the descent as smooth as possible. She might have also been trying to hide her blush… but that was definitely secondary. Yes, a smooth ride was her top concern.

From behind her, she heard Lara reply, “Well, it’s pretty simple in theory. There’s this compartment where the passengers stand, and then there’s a counterweight attached to it with a pulley which weighs the same as the empty compartment. So, whenever it is empty, the elevator is stationary, something helped by the pitons that dig into the walls of the shaft when no one is putting mana into the imprint. But when people enter the elevator and feed it mana, the pitons disengage and the elevator descends under the difference in weight.”

“Why the mana though? And why wind and earth mana specifically?” asked Ceres.

Before Lara could answer, Master opened his eyes and answered instead. “The mana activates runic enchantments that lighten or increase the weight of the compartment and the counterweight so that the elevator can move down in a gradual manner. I suppose the other imprint activates a different set of enchantments that would allow the elevator to ‘ascend’ instead. The preference for wind and earth mana is because these two elements are good at increasing or decreasing the weight of objects, therefore inherently compatible with the runes here." He turned to Lara for confirmation, "Right?”

Despite Deimos’ lack of interest in social maneuvering, even she could tell that Master was trying to impress Lara and demonstrate his value to his potential allies. And it seemed to be working as intended from the barely concealed amazement in Lara’s voice as she said, “When I read the reports about your capabilities, I saw a mention of some sort of mana sense. I thought it’d be useful for scouting but I never would have guessed how impressive it actually is.”

Shaking her head, she continued, “Your analysis is spot on except for a small discrepancy. Instead of having two separate enchantments, the same enchantment has two nodes – the palm prints – so when you input mana in one or the other, the effect reverses.”

“What would people with different elements do? Being unable to use the elevator unless you are a wind or earth mage seems… inefficient.” Ceres interjected.

“The elevator can also run on Aeolian or Lithic crystals… so, that’s not as much of a problem. Just a minor inconvenience. Element conversion inscriptions are way too costly and would make the elevators impractical to create…”

Lara’s response was cut short as, with a slight bump, the elevator came to a stop. “We’re here,” said the cheerful Salamandra with a smile. “If you’re interested in this type of thing, then you’ll really enjoy your visit to the Water sector where we have our Arcanum and public library. It’s the education sector with the Imperial Academy and the Mage Towers present there. For now, let’s focus on the here and now.”

Stepping forward, she pulled the shutter open, revealing the scene outside.

Glowing amber crystals grew out of the roof of the tunnel that stretched out from the gate of the elevator, giving the it a warm ambiance. As the five of them exited the tunnel, they found themselves in an extremely large cavern of which Deimos could see no end.

Master and Ceres had described the magma chamber of the Elemental to her but she was sure that this was much, much larger. A fluorescent moss covered the gently domed ceiling of the cavern, glowing a soft white. That along with more of the radiant amber crystals growing from the ceiling in a scattered manner gave the cavern a warm lighting. Broad pillars held up the ceiling, that on a closer look would reveal that they weren’t pillars at all, but residences and shops that also happened to serve as structural support.

Just like the Wind Sector above it, the entire cavern was filled with a bustling crowd. The noise echoed in the cavern, lending it an even more frenetic atmosphere than the city of skyscrapers they had just left behind.

Stepping in front of the four of them who were staring dumbfounded at this magnificent scene, Lara turned back to face them and spread her arms. “Welcome to the Earth Sector.”

+-+-+

“So, what’s this place famous for?” I asked Lara as we pushed our way through the crowded streets of the Earth sector. “You said that each sector had a specialty. The Wind sector is the hub for commerce and the Water sector is the sector for education – then what about Earth?”

Deftly dodging a Pluma’s wing, she answered, “The artisans of course. Any form of metalwork you might fancy – jewellery, sculptures, weapons… anything. This sector is where all the skilled craftsmen congregate. Woodwork, leatherwork, gemstones… if it can be wrought by hand, then you can probably find it here.”

Suddenly, Deimos spoke up. “We can visit the forges first, ya? I had a contact commission a weapon for me. She contracted a smith here and when she learnt that I was coming to the Capital, she made it so that I’d be able to collect my weapon from him on my own.”

Oh, right. The thing about Deimos commissioning a weapon had slipped my mind. Thankfully she had contacted Teal, otherwise the weapon would have been delivered to the Felidae Estates before being sent back to the Capital to us. An unnecessary expense made more costly by the current state of the trade route between Regiis and the South-eastern Kingdom.

“Oh? Sure, why not?” agreed Lara. “The smithies are at the border between the Earth sector and the Fire sector. Since most of you were interested in the Arcanum and the Library, I was thinking of taking you through the Earth sector and into the Fire sector where we would take the first elevator up into the Water sector. So, the smithies were on the way.”

I couldn't help but hold some anticipation towards Deimos’ new weapon. Razor wire was a really unconventional choice and a very, very difficult weapon to master. The amount of control required to wield it without slicing your own head off was mind-boggling. But, correspondingly, the payoffs were immense once it had been mastered. The flexible path of the weapon and its ability to wrap around shields meant that it was incredibly difficult to block. Then, there was the consideration of range. Most conventional weapons catered to one, at most two, ranges. But razor wire was good for close, mid and long-range combat.

It was a weapon that would be more hindrance than aid in the initial stages but in the late stage, it would pay dividends and raise the battle-strength of its wielder by several scales. It was a great investment for the future for someone as hard-working and talented as Deimos. Without any of those two qualities, it was a weapon that could ruin a mage.

The temperatures began to rise as we approached the Fire sector. The residential buildings began to grow sparse, replaced actual pillars of dark stone supporting the ceiling. The lighting dimmed as the luminescent moss growing on the ceiling reduced. Instead, a red glow proliferated from the scarlet crystal rising up from the floor giving the entire region a fiery tinge.

I could see muscular figures in minimal clothing glistening with sweat as they fed metal into massive open smelters out of which glowing orange streams of molten metal poured out. The molten metal was filled into casts and cooled into ingots before being carried away to wherever they were needed. Tanning racks could be seen scattered about with hides in various stages of curing hung upon them. The stench of urine as we passed by one was overwhelming.

The sound of hammers striking anvils filled the air, emanating from the squat stone-walled forges that filled the area. Attached to each forge was a storefront with all kinds of colourful banners that vied for our attention. As we made our way through the area, we were dazzled by the wide array of weapons on display at the shopfronts. From daggers to war hammers; from bows to shields, from throwing stars to whips – there was no weapon that hadn’t found representation in the displays.

Turning to Deimos, Lara asked, “Do you have the address of the contracted smith? Or the name of the shop?”

“Yes. The Forge of the Iron Bear. I was told that it was quite the famous establishment.”

Lara arched an eyebrow. “Well, I suppose you could call it famous but infamous would be the more appropriate term.”

“Why?” I asked. “Is there some issue with the quality of the craftsmanship?”

“Oh, no. Not at all. In fact, the Iron Bear’s skill is among the best in the Capital and the very best in terms of value for money. Practically a steal. Quality isn’t an issue but customer service is. The man is known for being intractable and rude to his customers. He gives no one face.”

“We’re just going to collect a commissioned weapon and pay him for it. There’s little reason for him to be discourteous towards us.” I said.

Lara shrugged. “Hope so.”

Taking a few turns, we finally reached our destination. The shop had a large white banner with the silhouette of a bear standing on its hind legs and taking a swipe drawn on it in black ink. Judging by the crispness of the strokes, it was the work of a calligraphy master. The words Forge of the Iron Bear were written beside the image in the old language using bold brush strokes.

A bear of a man was manning the storefront. His dark brown hair was shot through with grey as was his full-face beard. He had the rounded ears typical of his bloodline and a tuft of chest hair peeked out from under the grey apron he wore over his shirtless body. He was wide enough to fit two of me side by side and his hirsute arms were thicker than my thigh. Contrary to his indelicate appearance, he was working on chiselling very fine runes onto a dagger.

He glared up at us from under his bushy eyebrows as we approached. “What do ye want?” he growled. “Can’t ye see I’m working?”

‘Then why are you sitting at the shopfront?’ I wanted to criticize. His temperament was as bad as the rumours claimed.

Mustering her courage, Deimos stepped forward and said, “Umm… I’m here to collect the weapon I commissioned. It's razor wire made from the hairs collected off fire ants. It’s ready, ya?”

I could see his eyes widening slightly in recognition before his frown deepened and he snapped, “I ain’t making something like that fer a little girl who doesn’t know her own weight. It’d be a waste of good material.”

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Beside me, I could see Deimos’ brows furrowing at the uncalled-for insult. While there was a part of the raw material that had come from the ants killed by other soldiers, most had originated from ones she had fought and bested herself. Unused to collaborating with other mages, she had put her life on the line to battle ants at her own Tier one-on-one. The rest she had traded with the merits she had earned. The higher Tier hairs had come from the ants hunted by my parents and the Queen I had collaborated with father to take down.

Even if, and that was a massive if, the material was wasted on Deimos… it was her material to waste. The most this man could do was decline the commission; refuse to craft the weapon and tell us to go elsewhere.

I could see Phobos stepping up to defend her but she was forestalled by Deimos’ quiet voice. “Excuse me, sir, but I doubt that we know each other well enough for you to evaluate me so.”

The ends of the man’s eyebrows nearly disappeared in his hairline as his scowl deepened. “Girl, are you questioning me?!” The world around him seemed to warp and grow heavier as the pressure of a Tier 4 at the peak of his realm bore down on us.

I couldn't help but frown. What kind of behaviour was this? Why was he escalating the situation? There was no reason for Deimos’ few words to drive him up the wall. She had been quite polite in her wording… unless, he had some connection to the Pholidota family and this was their doing. I cast a sideways glance at Lara. She seemed just as surprised as I was, staggering back from the onslaught of the man’s aura like the rest of us.

I couldn't see the fluctuations of his mana as he was an earth mage but from the increased weight of our bodies, I could guess that he had increased the gravity in his vicinity. But that didn’t mean that I was helpless against him. I couldn't prevent the bit of anger that rose within me. We were guests here at the Capital, supposed emissaries of the newly formed Kingdom. Instead of paving the way for us and helping us settle down, we were being probed and tested at every turn by the authorities. I set my jaw and stepped forward. If they wanted a demonstration, they would get one.

Any spell that created a field of force, no matter what its Tier, element or Aspect, required an uninterrupted flow of pure mana into it for it to form and be sustained. My soul expanded its sensation, reaching out to the five strains of mana available to it, it grabbed the mana, and pulled.

The wind picked up around us, blowing up some dust; the temperature rose slightly, combining with the increased moisture to make the atmosphere sultry; shadows darkened and lights brightened as the ambient mana gathered towards me in a swirling vortex.

Immediately, the press of the gravity on us weakened drastically as the mana feeding it was polluted by the other elements.

The Iron Bear turned to me in surprise, his eyes taking on an appraising cast. Suddenly, the pressure on me intensified, doubling and redoubling until my knees shook from the strain of keeping me upright. Veins stuck out on my forehead and neck as I clenched my teeth and settled down into the horse stance to endure.

‘At least, he has taken his attention off the others,’ I noticed, trying to find a silver lining amidst the dark clouds while intensifying my mana vortex. I had been inspired by the Elemental to develop this particular usage of my skills. Opposite to its ability to collate all strains of mana into a single one for its personal use, I could only pollute the mana of others, diluting it and weakening their Domain or any forcefield they might be using.

Still, as he kept increasing the density of his mana, I could sense him extruding my vortex by rejecting all foreign mana and regaining control of his spell. This kind of trick was only valid for the first time, when I could catch someone off guard. Once they adapted to the sensation, they would be able to compensate for it. Also, it only worked on mana that was less dense than the vortex I formed. Off the cuff, I could only condense the ambient mana to Tier 3 initial stage density. Any mage above that realm would be able to easily shrug off my influence on their Domain. The Iron Bear had only been using a fraction of his capabilities so I had managed to counter his aura, but now, as he increased the pressure, I was forced to take a step back, the ground cracking under my feet due to my enhanced weight.

*Thwack*

“What are you doing you big buffoon?!”

All of a sudden, the pressure on me disappeared like a bad dream, leaving me panting for breath as I supported myself with my hands on my trembling thighs. Looking up, I saw the Iron Bear who had been so domineering just moments ago, cowering behind a chair too small to hide his huge form as a petite woman with rabbit ears beat him over the head with a rolled-up newspaper.

“I told you!” she exclaimed, “I told you to be nice to the customers and look at what you’re doing! It hasn’t even been fifteen minutes since I left you here.”

The woman had a head of grey hair with wrinkles to match on her tanned skin that indicated an active youth. The fur on her long ears was dark at the tips while age had lightened them towards the base. They were currently set upright in annoyance as she relentlessly laid into the bear of a man with her weapon of choice.

The corner of my mouth twitched. Who was the rabbit and who the bear?

Raising his hands in surrender, the Iron Bear tried to protest. “Marge. Marge! Stop it! I can expl-- Stop it!” Seeing that she showed no signs of pausing her assault, he reached out and grabbed the rolled-up newspaper.

Tugging on it a few times futilely, the woman let go of it and crossed her arms under her chest with a ‘hmph’.

“You better have a good explanation for assaulting my customers or you aren’t hearing the end of this, you understand?!”

Getting to his feet and clearing his throat to hide his embarrassment, he muttered in a small voice like a wronged child. “They’re the ones who commissioned the razor wire with the fire ant hairs… I just told the girl that it’d be a waste of good material and they started questioning me. I was just giving ‘em a small lesson is all… then the boy began to resist and I became a bit curious and got carried away…”

Sighing, the woman rubbed her face in exasperation. Turning to us, she said apologetically, “Pardon my boorish husband, please. He really doesn’t know how to speak properly.” Turning to Deimos she explained, “He didn’t mean to cast aspersions on your capabilities… What he meant was that the material you sent us wasn’t suited for creating razor wire. It’d be a ‘waste of good material’ in that way.”

Bowing to us slightly, she indicated towards a room at the back of the shop. “Why don’t you come in and we can talk about this in more detail?”

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The Iron Bear’s wife, Marge, entered the guest room and closed the door behind her. She had driven her husband off into the forge attached to the shop and temporarily closed the shopfront. In her words, “I can’t trust him around people anymore.” I was inclined to agree with her.

But still, I couldn't help but respect the man a bit. Despite his lack of social skills, he was really staunch when it came to his affection for his wife. The reason I said this was because while he was at the peak of Tier 4, his wife had barely scratched the boundary of Tier 2 middle stage.

That was the reason why she had aged so much more noticeably than him. I estimated that she was around seventy years old. As the lifespan of a Tier 2 was generally around a hundred, her age couldn't help but come across from her appearance.

Mismatched couples such as this, while not unheard of, were quite a rarity as the difference in lifespan meant that one of the members of the couple would be spending the last years of their life alone mourning their spouse. An unenviable situation. Especially for females who would have the extra worry of searching for another husband to keep Vita’s whisperings in check.

Fortunately, the whispers trailed off after menopause, so, it wasn’t a problem most of the time.

With a sigh, Marge walked over to a cupboard at the back of the room, took out a wooden box, and walked over to us. She took a seat across a table from the sofa we were seated on and placed the box beside her. “I’m really sorry about my husband,” she began. Turning to Deimos, she lowered her head. “You were the unfortunate target of his discontent with his son.”

“Son?” asked Deimos doubtfully.

“Well… you don’t know?” said Marge, looking surprised. “I thought you’d be familiar with him seeing that you worked under him for a while. And, he was the one who forwarded your commission to us.”

“Ah!” I exclaimed in recognition. “You mean Major Ursa? Vincent Ursa from the Firang contingent? He’s your son?”

“Yes,” she agreed, beaming with pride, then she deflated. “But he and his father don’t really get along. That was probably a large part of why he was so rude to you.” She paused a bit, then added: “Beyond his usual, that is.”

That was really no excuse, bringing family problems into work was extremely unprofessional, but Deimos didn’t seem to want to make a big deal of the issue. She said, “It’s fine. There was no real harm done… but could you tell us why the material we provided isn’t good enough?”

“Ahh… well, first of all, the elements don’t really match up. The fire ant hairs are fire element materials and if we wanted to make razor wire – a wind element weapon – we would need to process them by stripping the fire elemental mana from them. I hope you understand why that would be a monumental waste.”

Deimos nodded and I didn’t find her logic hard to follow either. Most of the value in the hairs came from the fact that they had come from beasts that had permeated them with their mana making them extremely sturdy and mana conductive. While they would retain these properties even if the fire mana in them was stripped as the tiny mana channels within them would be retained, the extent to which they would do so would be greatly reduced.

They would still be good materials to craft weapons with, but not the exceptional ones they were now.

Marge continued, “If, instead, we were to turn them into fire element weapons, the effectiveness and efficiency would get a huge boost.” She took up the box from beside her, opened it, and proffered it to us. “Here, see for yourself.”

Within the box, ten hair-thin needles were laid side by side, glittering under the light of the room. Each of the needles was the length of my index finger, perfectly straight, and a beautifully transparent red – like threads of scarlet glass.

All five of us took up a needle and I inspected mine with my soul sense. Immediately, I could see the fine threads of fire mana running through the needle, concentrated at its tip. If I squinted really, really hard and used that technique I had plagiarized off a sailor on the Cloud Whale – the ability to lens air around my eyes to magnify what I was seeing – I could get a fuzzy glimpse of the fine channels running through it.

Turning to Marge, I asked, “Mind if I pass some fire mana into it?”

She shook her head with a smile, “Not at all, it’s material you provided and these are only made from the Tier 2 hairs. Also, no rune work has been inscribed on it. So, they aren’t that precious. Do whatever you want but I would suggest that you try pricking your finger with one as it is – without any mana.”

Curious, I did as she said, pricking the tip of my index finger of my left hand with the needle. Immediately, I regretted it as a fiery pain shot up my finger, seeming to sear a path through my arm straight to my mind.

It was a familiar pain. I had felt it once when I had been bitten by the fire ants Phobos had been using to break the barrier between Tier 1 and 2. Then again when I had bitten by a Tier 2 ant within the Dungeon of Gun. The fiery agony of fire ant venom.

My left leg twinged in sympathy as my memory of the wound in the Dungeon was dragged to the surface. Clenching my teeth, it was all I could do to prevent myself from crying out. The needle fell out of my grasp and onto the ground as I clutched my hand to my stomach and curled up around it.

Really, that mind-breaking pain had left its mark on me. It might seem like I had gotten over it, but in that hectic situation, I didn’t have time to properly process it and it had remained locked away in one corner of my mind, waiting for a chance to re-emerge.

It seemed that fire ant venom was one of my vulnerabilities. Good to know. Thankfully, I hadn’t tried it with mana like I planned and asked first. I don’t know what would have happened otherwise.

The rest of us were showing similar if much weaker reactions, Ceres, Lara and Phobos dealing with the pain better than Deimos. The first two due to their element resisting the fire toxin and the last due to her prior exposure to the toxin.

Forcefully wrestling the trauma back into the box it had leapt out from, I brought my breathing under control and uncurled myself swiftly, unwilling to worry anyone else. Yet, I saw Phobos casting worried glances my way. It seemed that my episode hadn’t escaped her notice.

Thankfully, before she could ask, she was distracted by Marge’s voice. “As you can see, these needles have retained the properties of the beast they came from. If we were to process them and strip the fire mana from them, then it would lose this property. A great depreciation in value.”

She continued to explain with an excited glint in her eye, apparently her enthusiasm for weapon crafting wasn’t less than her husband’s. “Another problem would be joining these short hairs together into a lengthy piece of wire. Instead, flying needles are a much better design choice. The hairs are practically made for crafting needles; very little processing will be needed."

She turned to Deimos. "Actually, if you were male and were married to a fire mage, a set of needles made out of fire ant hairs would be the perfect weapon. You would be able to manipulate the needles with your wind mana specialized in control and with the fire mana from your spouse, you would be able to affect the flame toxin present in them. It would be a better weapon than even the razor wires you are going for.”

She paused a bit and mused, “Well, not better exactly. If you master the Aspect of Sharpness as well as improve your control, a razor wire can be equally threatening…” She shook her head, “Anyway, the point is, this particular material isn’t suitable for what you want.”

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“Then… what do you suggest?” I asked Marge. “If this material isn’t suitable, then what would be the best alternative? And could we trade you the fire ant hair for it? Do you have it in stock?”

The rabbit-eared woman beamed at me. “Smart young man. As a matter of fact, we don’t, but we will soon. There was a successful expedition into the Second Forbidden Zone not too long ago and the adventurer teams will be coming to the Capital within the month. If you can wait, then I can contact our liaison in the adventurer guild. I can guarantee that we’ll get first pick. The razor wire will be on par with the fire needles we can make from your material.”

The Second Forbidden Zone was situated on the dividing line between the Northern province and the North-eastern province of Regiis. It was a rocky wasteland. A frigid rocky wasteland. A place of vast snowfields littered with towering spires of dark rock and riddled with a vast network of underground rock caverns – it was home to a colony of arachnid beasts.

There were two main varieties of spiders – wind and earth. The wind spiders wove their webs among the tall spires of rock while the earth spiders didn’t weave webs, inhabiting the underground caverns instead. The two varieties were perpetually at war with each other, which was the reason that they didn’t cause much trouble beyond the Forbidden Zone. But, at the same time, if anyone tried to invade the Forbidden Zone, and tap into the rich magical resources formed by the naturally formed Wind and Earth super-topologies, then the two would unite and pursue the foreigners.

Also, there were many sub-classes of the wind and earth spiders, each of them forming small tribes according to their habits and infighting amongst each other as well. It was the second largest Forbidden Zone in the entirety of Regiis, dwarfed only by the First Forbidden Zone – that too only because the giant swarm of locusts that made up the First Forbidden Zone was migratory and all the regions in its path of migration was considered to fall within the range of the Zone.

A large section of the income of the Northern and North-eastern provinces came from organizing expeditions into the Forbidden Zone. If there was a successful one recently then the markets would soon be flooded with spider silk. That was definitely going to be a better material than fire ant hair.

“What species of spider silk would be the most appropriate?” asked Ceres.

She had read up a lot on Forbidden Zones and the usual tactics used to explore and conquer them in preparation for our expedition into the Sixth Forbidden Zone. She was quite a bit more knowledgeable about this topic than me.

“I was thinking Cloud-surfer silk would be the best. If we can’t get that… then Scarp-weaver silk is the next best.” Noticing that Ceres seemed to recognize the names, she commended, “Well… you’re quite well-informed.” Then realization hit her. “Ahh… right. I can guess why. It must have been quite the experience,” she said sympathetically.

“Yes,” agreed Ceres, “it was… Anyway, we’ll need a bit of time to consider. Do you mind?”

“Oh no, not at all. Take all the time you need. But just try to decide within a fortnight… I need time to contact the adventurer’s guild after all.”

Ceres nodded in acknowledgement.

Seeing that the business part of the meeting was over temporarily, Lara burst into the conversation. She looked like staying silent for so long had physically hurt her. “I saw your husband engraving runes on a knife outside. Does he do both the metal work as well as the runes for the weapons?”

“He only does some basic rune work. He mainly works the metal. Most of the advanced stuff is done by me. ” she said, smiling proudly.

Lara’s eyes widened in surprise. “I saw one of your weapons in my father’s arsenal. The rune work was really impressive. Don’t you find it difficult with your cultivation base?”

Marge shrugged. “Tier 2 is more than enough for any sort of engraving. I just have to take more frequent breaks to recover my mana. It takes a bit more time, is all. Blindly chasing a high cultivation without any skill is just silly in my opinion. Which weapon are you talking about? I remember making both a glaive and a bow for your family.”

“Ah. The glaive…”

They went on to discuss runes. It was interesting for a while before they devolved into jargon and I stopped being able to follow. Lara seemed to have quite a bit of expertise in this field. Thankfully, she didn’t continue the conversation for too long, Lara managing to wrangle a promise of another appointment from Marge before we left the store, assuring her that we would let her know of our decision as soon as possible.

“So, you’re a runic craftsman?” asked Phobos as we made our way towards the Fire sector so we could take an elevator to the Water sector, towards the library.

Lara adjusted a lock of her fiery hair embarrassedly. “Ah… no, just a hobbyist.”

“Well, you seemed quite serious while you were talking with Marge. I might ask you for help sometime.”

“Sure. Why not? I’ll be with you guys most of the time anyway in the following weeks.”

Before they could continue, Ceres interjected, “Excuse me, could you tell me if any male in our generation from the Lupin family has married a Salamandra… or is slated to.”

The Lupin family was a family of hereditary nobles descended from the Demigod known simply as the Wind Wolf. I could guess why Ceres was asking the question.

Lara narrowed her eyes slightly at Ceres before relaxing and answering, “Yes. There is. I guess you know that we hereditary nobles are only allowed to marry someone out of our own clan and amongst ourselves. It’s so that the thickness of our blood is maintained and also so it doesn’t get too thick if you get what I mean.”

Not to mention that it would forge closer ties between the families and the Demigods as they would, in effect, be one large extended family. I could understand why they would be miffed at the sudden addition of a hereditary noble family.

Lara continued, “It’s Erin, my cousin sister, who is marrying the Lupin heir: Ivan. And before you ask, we were searching for a bridal gift and the fire needles sound perfect. I do believe Marge was making a sales pitch by demonstrating them.” She shrugged. “Well, she succeeded. If you choose to go for the spider silk, we can help you through our channels. I think we have some Cloud-surfer silk in our storehouse.”

“What’s a Cloud-surfer?” asked Deimos.

Pushing up her glasses, Ceres answered, “It’s a type of spider found in the Second Forbidden Zone. The webs it spin are naturally lighter than air. The silks clump together in the form of clouds that float in the wind and the spiders live above these clouds. The silks are tougher than steel wire and extremely light and long. They are perfect for razor wire.”

Reaching an elevator, all of us got in and once again Deimos injected her mana into the palm-print and it took us to the surface.

Turning to Ceres, Lara said, “I know that it’ll be an unfair deal for you guys as the spider silk you will get will be Tier 3 at the most while you have enough Tier 4 and Tier 5 needles to make a full set that will last a mage their life. I’ll tell you what… sell us this favour and we guarantee that we’ll collect the material for you. After all, Tier 2 and 3 wires will last you a long while yet.”

She chuckled. “If nothing else works, I’ll just have to sacrifice my dignity and act cute in front of grandpa.”

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A note from YesorNo

This was dragging the pace of the main volume down so I turned it into a side story. Enjoy!


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