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“I had plenty of time to think about my behavior while you were gone, and memories of my own daughter kept springing to mind.” Guildmaster Eckert Duvan said, addressing Sandi. The aged corio seemed very contrite as he stopped the party outside the entrance of the dungeon.

The party of veteran adventurers gave the guildmaster several double and even triple takes as the old man took Sandi away to apologize.

“Huh, never thought he had it in him,” Bulad whispered to Garth.

Garth shrugged.

“And I wanted to apologize for treating you the way I did. I’d be aggrieved if someone treated my little girl that way, and I realized you’re someone else’s little girl too, not some man eating monster.”

“I have eaten a few men before?” Sandi said, causing the Guild master’s heartfelt apology to stutter to a halt.

“They totally deserved it, though.” She clarified, patting the Guildmaster’s shoulder reassuringly.

“What I’m trying to say is…you’re not a monster. You’re a person, and…” he hesitated for a timeless moment, “I’m sorry I didn’t treat you like one.”

“Thank you!” She said, sniffling back tears and hugging him, engulfing the aged corio with her generous mummeries. Her heart-shaped bottom wiggled enticingly as he struggled in her grasp.

The assembled party of adventurers admired the view for a moment before she set him down again. The Corio sisters rolled their eyes and went about their business but Junten looked like she wanted a hug too. She was practically drooling.

“Now comes the more serious business.” The Guildmaster said, struggling to keep his breathing calm. “We have to process your haul.” He motioned for nearby clerks with large scales to come forward.

Without missing a beat, Grok unslung the backpack full of crystals, and the rest of the party began emptying their Status bands, dropping a couple cubic feet of sanatite per person into a great bin brought by the guild personnel.

“What’s going on?” Garth whispered to Grok.

“Taxes, essentially. It’s illegal to walk straight out of the city with the sanatite gained in the dungeon, even more so on a big haul like this. We register the quantity with the guild, then it’s possible to buy a portion of it back with the receipt they give us. We show the receipt to the people at the gate, showing that we’ve paid for the mineral in question.”

“Ah, and if we don’t want Sanatite?”

“You can get a receipt for cash straight from the guild’s coffers.”

Interesting, so the clan that ruled this place liked to know exactly how much product came out of their mine. The old man wasn’t jerking him around, they ran a tight ship.

Wonder if they’re interested in the luxury goods trade? Garth leaned over an empty bin wider than he was tall, and held out his Status band.

A cascade of the self-healing mineral tumbled out of thin air, creating a cacophony of tinkling crystals. In a minute, the bin was full, and Garth motioned for them to bring the next one over.

“What the hell is that?” Grok asked quietly.

“What is what?”

“That status band. You’ve got to have a couple hundred storage enchantments slaved together to store that much.”

Or one really big one, thanks to the Mythic Core chips.

“Well, it was a hobby project I spent a lot of time on in wizard college.”

“You could sell something like that for….” Grok blew air between his lips as he tried to calculate its value. “A lot.”

“It’s got sentimental value.” Garth said.

“Garth!” Sandi shouted, tackling him with a hug. Luckily Garth’s spine had long since exceeded human standards, and he only had the wind driven out of him in an ‘oof!’.

“I told you he was actually nice.” Sandi said, her breasts pushing up under his chin as she rubbed against him gleefully. It was times like this, looking down at her crystal green eyes and over her shoulder to her sacral dimples that Garth felt happy with his life choices.

“I know, you were right, I was wrong. I guess the old man was just having an off day or something.”

“Well, I’ll try not to hold it against you.” She said, preening.

“Babe, you can hold it against me any time you want.” Garth said, grabbing a handful of generous buttcheek and making Sandi blush.

A cleared throat caught Garth’s attention and dragged him back to the present.

“Hmm? Oh,” Garth patted Sandi on the head as he stepped away and turned to greet the Guildmaster. “What can I do for you, sir?”

“If you come with me, I’d like to give you your ticket in private.” He said, glancing at Sandi.

“Okay, I’ll be right back.” Garth glanced over at Sandi. “I think Junten wants a hug too.” She grinned and wandered off in that direction.

Garth followed the guildmaster to a hastily constructed tent, where he watched the corio spin mana into a soundproof wall of air.

“I did what you said, remove the curse you put on me.”

“What curse?”

“The one that make apologizing feel good, you daft bastard.”

“That’s not all it does, but you’re a mage, you’ll figure it out,” Garth said with a shrug. The spell wasn’t hidden in the mind, since it only needed to observe behavior rather than intent, it was possible to bury it anywhere. In this case, the tough nail of the guildmaster’s left hoof, where he couldn’t feel a damn thing. When it was triggered, it would reach up to the brain and slam it with dopamine and fade away in the blink of an eye.

Definitely a step up from Tyler’s prototype. Not sure if it was ready for mass production yet, though.

The old man gave him the fiercest glare he’d seen in awhile before he gave a defeated sigh. “What do you want from me?”

“Straight to the point, huh?” Garth said, tapping his fingers on his elbow as he thought. “What is the Kinereth Paquis clan like, as far as clans go? Because I’m thinking about expanding my business.”

“They are harsh but fair. They mercilessly kill anyone who disobeys them, and yet allow a fair amount of freedom to those who follow their rules.”

Garth considered a moment.

“How would you like to negotiate a distribution agreement with them?” Garth asked.

The wrinkled Corio deflated, looking like a sad sack. “Honestly, I was looking forward to retiring within the year.”

“But you can’t retire this year.” Garth said, aghast. “The bomb I put beneath the dungeon core won’t be out of range for another two years.”

“That was a good apology, by the way,” Garth said, patting the corio on the shoulder as his expression crumbled.

The Corio buried his face in his hands for a moment, then dragged them down with a sharp inhaled, fortifying himself for the next couple years, most likely.

“Fine, but I want compensation. I was planning on enjoying the next fifteen years until I return to the gods.”

“You got it.”

The corio nodded, staring off into the distance. “Oh, right, here’s your ticket.” He passed Garth a crimson tag with Garth’s name on it.

“How’d you figure out my share already?” Garth asked, taking the ticket. He’d filled up the bins only moments before

“Simple. You brought back far more than the maximum amount of Sanatite, so the excess was confiscated and you’re being given a crimson ticket, worth twenty five thousand credits in cash or sanatite.”

“Not sure I like this system.” Garth said, turning the crimson ticket over in his hand. He had a lot more than that coming in every month from L.A. and various outposts across Earth. The six weeks of work he’d invested in exploring to the bottom of a valuable dungeon equaled about five days worth of income.

“Keeps industrious types like you from emptying the entire dungeon out in a single trip. Also Prevents asshat mithril and adamantine adventurers from hoarding the entire dungeon’s resources for themselves. Keeps them from squatting on a small dungeon like this.”

“Hmmm…” Garth said, scratching his chin with the ticket. “About how much does this ticket pay for?”

“Oh, about two kilos of Sanatite.”

Garth stopped scratching his chin.

“I loaded at least a thousand into those bins.”

The Guildmaster finally began to smile. “I know.”

Last time I work at the bottom of the supply chain, Garth thought to himself.

****

Outside the Gatehouse, Garth gave the six adventurers tough wooden business cards with his location in the multiverse written down. He materialized the cards in a little puff of ash with a flourish before he handed out each one.

“If you ever feel like you’re not appreciated enough, or want a good rise in social strata, feel free to visit my city,” Garth said. “I know for a fact you’re not being paid well enough here.”

Garth leaned close to them. “Two words. Adamantite mine,” he whispered. As their eyes widened, Garth pulled back with a grin. “’Course, it’s still very young, but if certain veteran adventurers wanted to get in on the ground floor and lend their expertise towards management, that would be most welcome. I’ve seen that there’s a lot more to running a dungeon than simply letting adventurers run wild in there.

Grok glanced down at the red ticket in his hand, then to the others, a thoughtful expression on his face. He looked back at Garth.

“We’ll have to buy some specialized equipment and sort out our affairs, but I think I speak for all of us when I say we’re interested. He glanced at Garth’s card. “Expect us in a month or two.”

“Alright,” Garth said, clapping him on the shoulder before following Sandi into the Gate. “Looking forward to it!”

The outrageous fees paid, the Gate conductor entered in Earth outpost 3502, and pulled the lever that sent a bell through to the other side, a moment later, the bell rung on their side and the conductor waved them through.

Garth and Sandi stepped through the portal. After the disorientation of the portal faded, they were immediately assaulted by the familiar dry desert air of outpost 3502.

Once they were outside, Garth sat crosslegged and focused on teleporting them to L.A. He wasn’t quite able to make it in one jump, but three jumps later, they appeared in front of the city gate. Garth was interested to see how much progress had been made in the month and a half he’d been on honeymoon/vacation from squawling infants.

Clark had been meaning to get together with a few of the other phytomancer children and grow an enormous wall out of a series of mutant honey locust.

There had also been efforts to raise the mountains, redirect rivers, and create aquaducts with earth magic. When Garth had left, there had been a lot of work beginning clearing houses and unnecessary roads to make space for these projects, and he was curious to see where they each were at.

Plus Garth was secretly imagining the welcome home party. He knew he was probably overestimating the amount of love people had for him, but it was nice to daydream.

It wasn’t quite what he was expecting.

Garth and Sandi opened their eyes to shouts of alarm, smoke rising into the air, and people running for their lives.

The thorny honey locust wall was cracked, and the gate was on fire. There was an enormous black Tzetin shooting what looked like a stream of liquid nitrogen at the gate while thousands of onlookers watched Jim being beaten to death by…Garth?

The doppleganger was wearing a poorly fitted heavy silk yellow vest and black pants. He was paler than Garth had been originally, and he leaned over Jim, battering the jaw protector of his brother’s metal helmet into a skewed mess with his bare hands.

Standing beside him was Leanne with a corio arm, and off in the crowd Garth spotted a black haired girl watching the fight with way too much pleasure.

In the meantime though, Jim had gone limp, and this other Garth was hauling him up by the collar of his breastplate.

he peeled the helmet off Jim’s swollen face and gave a sharktoothed grin as he wound up a finishing blow.

Garth shouted, “What the hell is going on?”

His words, reinforced by Clarion Call, echoed across the entrance to his city and drew all eyes to him as he reached out with telekinesis and separated the two combatants.

The other Garth dropped the bit of steel that had torn off in his hand like a guilty child and pointed at Jim.

“He started it.”

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Back from my midweek weekend. You folks probably didn't notice much, but I spent a good twenty-eight hours on a couch watching TV. Good stuff.

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About the author

Macronomicon

  • Alaska

Bio: Born in Alaska, raised in Alaska, where the nearest job is 60 miles away. approaching 30 years old, happily married homebody diving head first into writing professionally . Looking to make friends and fans, meet artists and get feedback.

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