As we walked towards the supposed to be a mansion, I noticed how there were plenty of workers looking around, examining the dead trees. For them, it was a mystery, and something magical. But even more importantly, taking care of those trees had always been their job.
“It’s a pity,” Lu said, probably noticing my look. “I might have to fire most of them. But I’ll try to save as many of them as I can. Thankfully we have enough business elsewhere.”
“Regarding the help,” I began, looking at Lu. I noticed how the way he talked, and the way he walked was beautiful, yet silent, not telling me much. I wasn’t sure if he hid his emotions well, or there were no emotions to hide. There was no sign of anger what-so-ever, which was weird taking into account that he had just lost… a lot.
“Yes?” Lu finally responded. I had lost my focus.
“I’m not entirely sure where I am but are we near Cornwall?” I asked.
Lu looked at me. “You’re not that far off, yes.”
“Cornwall is right now being watched by a hobgoblin and a few of his underlings. And not far from there, in the forest, is also a tunnel that leads to a mine. In there, there are hundreds of goblins. They had only one purpose… to find something.”
“Please, I know very well what you’re talking about. I also know where you came from. No need to hide the information about the Elder Heart,” Lu said, looking forward.
I coughed. “Yes. Well, they found it. But we got trapped in the room as we were trying to stop them. So we escaped via the tunnel where all the roots were shrunk up. It was our only way out.”
“Smart.” Lu looked at me once more. “But you shouldn’t lie to me,” — he leaned closer to me, and whispered — “Hero.” A slight smirk appeared on his face. “I assume it’s in your backpack right now? If they had it, you wouldn’t even be walking towards the Mansion.”
There was a long moment of silence. My brain had crashed. That man knew more than I had anticipated. He was obviously experienced, which was shown at his age.
There was a slight chuckle. “But do not worry. I will not take it from you. If anything, I’m happy that it’s safe. There would be nothing worse than it landing into the wrong hands.”
I was confused. “You’re not gonna try to kill me and take it back?”
“And why would I do that?” Lu said, looking back at me.
“Because of the redwood? It’s literally what got you all of your wealth?”
Lu shook his head. “No. It was my ancestor who got wealth because of that. But he never did it only for the gain. Hin Akagi, our ancestor, never told us where he had placed it. He only told us about it and warned that there will be a time when we lose our wood. He told us not to depend on it. And when we do lose all those trees, we should let them go.”
We finally walked out from all those fallen trees, approaching the mansion, which was still quite far, but visible even in that fog. “The time has finally come. For a long time now, we have been earning our main income from many other things. And we still have a large stock of redwood waiting. I expect the price to go up now, though.” As we reached the front of the mansion, he stopped and looked at us. “My servants will take care of you now, please follow them,” he said as some of them came out of the house. “They are our honored guests. Take care of them, will you?”
As he said that, the servants bowed, and Alice and Arryn left with then. But both of them gave me a long stare beforehand. They had many questions. All I could do was smile.
“Sometimes it’s necessary to lie, but you should expect some of them to come and bite you back. I only hope that this isn’t one of those times,” Lu said, giving me a slight smile. “Now, I’ll send some of my guards to the town, making sure that villagers are safe. But I’m not sure I can do much about their hideout. I’ll tell them to keep their eyes opened, but it’s really something that only adventurers guild can deal with. But I’ll make sure that it’ll be their top priority.”
“Actually,” I quickly said, before he would continue his talk, “we sent a shadow raven to the guild, together with a letter. Maybe they already sent some help?” If they didn’t, there was going to be hell to pay, when I get back to Kirkwall.
“I’ll tell my people to check,” Lu said, nodding. “But for now, you should go, rest, and bathe yourself. We’ll continue the talk over breakfast. And by then, I expect that the other two would know who you are. It’s quite uncomfortable to keep it as a secret since the matters are now rather… urgent. And I do not want to keep them in the dark.”
“Please do hurry. One of us got captured. Or at least I hope he just got captured,” I muttered, showing off a part of me, not the hero. In the end, I was still the 20-year-old boy.
“Now-now. Nothing will change within thirty minutes or so. We’ll keep an eye out on the forest. Do you think you can pinpoint the entrance’s location?”
“Do you know about the ruins in the forest? Some old temple or something?”
Lu began to scratch his beard. “I might not, but they might,” he said as he took a look at his nearby guard.
“That’s where the entrance is at,” I said, nodding. “Thank you.”
“Very well. One more thing,” Lu said, looking at me now with much more serious look. “We’ll deliver you a chest that can be safely locked. I want you to put the Elder Heart in it for safety. You can keep the chest, of course. It’s a lot better than keeping it in your backpack. If you do not trust me - which you shouldn’t - you can swap it out into another one, when you get back into the Kirkwall.”
“How do I know that the chest is not enhanced?” I just asked my main question. “Not trying to offend you, of course. It’s just that you’d have a huge interest in it.”
“Unless you or one of your companions can detect if something is magical, you can’t. You just have to have faith in me,” he said.
I looked at him suspiciously, eyes slightly squinted.
Lu began to laugh once more. “If I really wanted it, I would’ve killed you way before inviting you to my house. And if I’d steal it, I wouldn’t literally offer you a chest where to hold it in. If it suddenly disappears, it’s only obvious that it’s me. It’s a dead giveaway. So it might be even better that it’s from me.
“If it does happen, you can just denounce me. If it comes to Hero’s word against mine, you’ll win. In the end, you’re the hero. This country is built around you having power. You probably have more power than the king, if you play it smart. You could make my family’s life very difficult. Of course, we could make yours as well. But I don’t think we should destroy each other over something like that,” he said. And as he finished, he gazed at my backpack.
To be fair, I was convinced. But apparently, he wasn’t. “The story says that whatever the Elder Heart produces, it can make someone very greedy. It might’ve even made Hin greedy. But Hin’s children were warned about it. Merchants like us have to be greedy, but no greed is worth losing our credibility or simply dying for. And if the stories are true, I do prefer not to see it at all,” Lu continued. “Thus this chest, as well.”
“Fine,” I muttered. “I’ll take up your offer.”
“Excellent,” Lu said, smiling. “Now, go follow the servant. He will take care of you. Enjoy your stay.”
And as he said the last part, he turned around and began to walk towards the same guy he had talked before. I, however, began to follow one of his servants, who happened to be a male elf.
“Right this way, Hero,” the servant said, slightly bowing, and leading me inside.
The mansion was huge. But as I had heard, it wasn’t even the family’s biggest mansion. Their main and the biggest home was at Kirkwall. This one was more of a resort where they relaxed. Apparently, a long time ago when the family was only dealing in redwood, it had been their main base of operations. But for a while now, as Lu told me, they had begun trading in many other things. Most of them were other woods, and not as expensive, but still a good trade. But they had always been huge sponsors of adventurer’s guild. It was a somewhat family tradition since Hun himself.
First of all, I got a simple bath, as the servant cleaned my body and removed the dirt and broken clothing, throwing them completely away. But I wasn’t given fresh clothing, not yet. Instead, I was given a towel.
“Right this way,” the servant told me, leading me to yet another room. It was a washing room, where one side was full of shelves, filled with baskets that all stored some basic necessities for washing, such as soap, and even more towels. The other side of the room had two barrels. One was filled with cold water, while the other one was a bit special one that held near-boiling water. Next to the barrels were washing areas. Mostly seats with empty bowls in front of them.
“This door will lead outside where you can have a hot bath. Take your time. When you’re finished, we’ll provide you with robes and necessary clothes,” the male servant said, pointing towards a larger glass door. “I do hope you don’t mind companions.”
“Oh, not at all,” I said quickly, smiling.
The servant opened his mouth, closed it, smiled, and walked away.
I pushed my backpack behind the bowl, then pushed bowl back into its spot, in front of it, and I finally began walking towards the door, removing my towel in the process. I could finally take a moment and just relax.
As I opened the door, I saw two people already in the hot water, looking at me. One of them looked at me eyes widened, but couldn’t look away. The other stared at me for a moment, smirked, and then looked away, giggling.
I had expected companions, but male, not my traveling companions. I quickly lowered my towel to hide my manhood. It came without saying, I was blushing, a lot.
“I didn’t expect to see you two here. I can come-”
“Too late,” Arryn said, still smirking. “We have seen it now. Nothing to hide anymore.”
Alice was blushing as much as I was. “Y-yeah,” she muttered, finally looking at the opposite direction. Now that I saw them, they both had a towel around their whole bodies. But then again, it was still the most skin I’ve ever seen on Alice.
I’ll be honest here - it was my first time ever in a situation like this, or perhaps with women altogether. So I didn’t know how to act. So, naturally, as I tried to stay cool and be the usual cool me, I checked both of them out as much as possible, during the whole bathing time. But to save some time and trouble, I won’t mention it after every few paragraphs, besides the one...
I casually walked near the bath’s edge and got myself into the water. It was… hot… and nice. I couldn’t help but release a slight moan.
“I know, right?” Arryn said, smiling. It was slightly surprising that she was as okay as she was. But perhaps that was the way how she dealt with losing Bill. “Bill will be jealous of you and this whole situation,” she added. So, apparently she just thought that Bill was perfectly fine, just captured.
I yawned. We had been fighting and struggling entire night, after all.
As I could get my first proper look at Arryn and Alice, I have to say that both of them were beauties. Or perhaps now that I’ve been with them a whopping two days, I saw them differently.
Since Arryn was an elf, she was very thin. Her breasts weren’t exceptionally large, but not small either. Her silver-gray eyes became more noticeable, which included her long almost pure-white hair, which normally was always braided into something, so they wouldn’t distract her.
Alice, however, was a slightly different story. While her body was also thin - but not as thin as Arryn’s - her breasts were a lot larger. Well, most adventurers were thin, because it involved a lot of physical activity. I could finally see her light-blue eyes clearly since her long blonde hair wasn't hiding her hair. Of course, compared to Arryn, Alice never braided her hair. But now that I could finally see her skin, she wasn’t as white as I had expected. So she must sunbathe during her free time. I was honestly expecting her skin to be as white as snow. But of course, it was still whiter than Arryn’s.
“Are you finally done checking us out, perv?” Arryn muttered but didn’t even move an inch, just casually sitting at the opposite side and looking at me.
“You’re both super pretty. And I’m in a great position and situation. So no. Let my eyes enjoy the situation, a bit.”
Arryn smirked. “I don’t dislike honest guys.” She then turned to look at Alice. “But she, however…”
As I looked at Alice, she was frozen in place. “Hiro is checking me out… Hiro is checking me out… Hiro is checking me out,” she muttered while looking at the water in front of her.
“No,” I said instantly. “That’s on you, not me.”
Arryn chuckled. “Fair. But hey, you don’t look half bad either.”
“Is this the moment we have sex?” I said. Alice’s stared at me, blushing even more.
Arryn only chuckled. “And you’re dirty. I like your confidence as well.”
I finally turned to Alice. “I was kidding, Alice. Calm down.”
Alice frowned, looking away. “Idiot.”
“So, Hiro. I feel like you’re hiding something from us. Want to enlighten us?” Arryn said, staring at me, intensely. “I did say that I don’t dislike honest guys,” she added.
I was toast. I had forgotten about it since the only thing I could focus on was the fact that I was almost naked together with two other girls. And the only help I had was all those romance subplots in those adventurer books I read as a kid. I could barely remember them.
Damn you, younger me! Why didn’t you take a moment and read a few romance books too? I thought.
I coughed to clear my throat. The best way to do it was a casual announcement.
“Oh yeah. I guess there’s no point to hide it anymore,” I said, gazing at both Arryn and Alice. “I’m actually the hero. The new one. I’d show my badge, but it’s in my backpack.”
They both stared at me, seriously.
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- Matthew E. Damson
I'm someone whose pen-name is Matthew E. Damson. Some others know me as Elven. I'm also known as elf, elfie, elves, pointy ears, and some more. To be honest, I have no idea why they call me other names, but they create nicknames, not me.
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