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“Congratulations. It’s the end of five hours, and all of you - seventy-four people - who actually made it back in time can give yourself a pat for achieving the first requirement of the game. From now on, Alice - my assistant - will forward whoever is late to a loser’s side. But don't make fun of them. Most of you will be moved there as well. We’ll see who is an actual winner, and who is not,” I began the speech. The time was up and it was time to wrap the lesson up. Alice threw me a quick stare as she moved to a side, already forwarding first late students, desperately running towards us.

“Now, let's begin. First of all, who doesn’t have ten books? Remember to be honest. No point to lie.”

Plenty of hands rose up, slowly. Most of them were missing only a few, if not a single one.

“You. Why are you missing one?” I asked someone from the front line.”

“I couldn’t find Rats Of Dusk,” she murmured.

It was the answer I was hoping for. “That’s because such a book doesn’t exist,” I explained.

Whispers spread throughout the students. Some were laughing, others disappointed. “Here’s the first lesson; not all the information that’s given to you is accurate. Some of it might be misleading, and sometimes it was a simple accidental mistake. We all do mistakes. Which leads me to a question, who got the book Rat tactics?”

Almost half of the students raised their hands. “Good job. When you’re given something that you can’t work with, you might want to try to find something similar, or a similar topic. But it’s not wrong if you didn't buy anything as a replacement.” There was even more utterance between the students. The secret was to give them a chance to discuss or think about what I had just told them.

“Now all those who didn’t have nine books, move aside. It’s not necessarily bad that you didn’t have exactly 9 books, but this time I told you to make sure you have ten books. As a side mention, I said you should have those 5 mentioned books, which doesn’t necessarily mean you need to have them. Even if you have ten books that have nothing to do with adventuring, it can still give expression that you have something. And sometimes it’s just a matter of listening what’s told you.”

“Now, it’s time to take on the next step.” I pushed my backpack forward. “I want all of you to show me how many coins you have left and give them back to me.” There were some whispers as a response. “What? Did you expect you can keep them?” To be fair, I was ready to not get back any of the coins. And in most cases, most of them returned with empty purses or they told me they didn’t have even a single coin left.

“Now, while it’s not necessarily a bad thing to spend money on something you really need, but you need to think about the future as well. You need to feed yourself or be prepared to spend to even more things. Money management is important. Sometimes you need to choose what information you gather, and what you do not. And in the current example, you need to be ready for a situation when the king decides not to choose you. Always make sure that you have some money left. So all those who have no money left, you can all move to losers side, right now.”

Surprisingly, there were only ten people who had money left, which included two of my favorites. Most of them were still giving me their money. But as most of them had just slightly left, the final one who came to empty his pockets was to surprise everyone. He probably decided to come forward as last for that very reason. It was more than I had hoped for.

A wide grin appeared on my face. A mouse - or more known as a mousefolk race - stepped forward, winning everyone’s attention. He was like a mouse, but a lot larger. Still small compared to everyone else around here. He was around two feet tall. His fur was color of white, like snow. That fur made his eyes more noticeable, which were red. He wore green clothing and a green cape. For a sword, he had something that looked like a shaver. All the other weapons were probably hidden away.

I had heard stories of that particular interesting student. Mousefolk are known as an extremely rare race. They are a lot larger than mice themselves, and they wear clothes. But they don’t really like to live in larger cities. There are exceptions, of course. So, they have smaller villages of their own. Funnily enough, they say that after the contract between five races was made, mousefolk were the first who wanted to join as late arrivals. However, because of the contract's type, they were denied. Instead, they were offered protection under the five races. They accepted.

“Hero, I’m happy to introduce myself. I’m Squeek!” he said, doing a long wide bow.

I had to try hard not to chuckle. “Hello?” I said, making it sound as it was a weird thing to do.

“I’m a big fan! And I hope to prove myself worthy with this task!” He put his smaller hand into his pocket, pulling out one large pouch of coins after another. Of course, holding that much money on him would be near impossible, or really invisible, so it was obvious that his pocket was magical storage. Everyone was just staring, eyes wide. But he continued, filling my bag with one pouch after another. He finally stopped as he placed down the ninth bag. “Total of one thousand silver. Give or take,” Squeek said proudly. Then he turned around and walked back to the other remaining nine, smiling. Everyone looked at Squeek.

“Excellent. I’m truly impressed. So tell me, how did you do it?” I asked.

“Oh, simple. In the beginning, I talked with as many as I could, and sold them information on where to find what. Luckily for me, I’ve been in this town long enough to know some basic information. Then, as I bought a few stores empty of certain and wanted books, I sold them all near the very end to all those students who were desperately seeking them. Of course, I had to lie that I had bought just a few extra, just in case.

"Then, at the very end, I sold some cheap information with all the remaining coins. I think I disqualified most of those who had no money left. Some bought the expensive book with all their remaining money, while others needed something simple and didn’t think about leaving some money in the pouch. Only very few refused. Most of them are still in the game. It’s pretty easy to deceive when I’m just a cute friendly-looking mouse,” Squeek explained with his slightly higher-pitched voice. He turned to face others. “No hard feelings. A good lesson to you all!”

I clapped. “Good job. I'm intrigued, can you show me your ten books?”

Squeel nodded and showed ten completely random and thin books, except one. most were travel guides, while others were some other kind of cheap books.

I grinned. “I thought so.”

“I knew it,” Loid said proudly as well, leaning comfortably against a stone. “To think that I passed with a single copper coin... Squeek barely bought a store empty in front of me, so I was forced to buy one expensive book from him,” he said.

“That’s why you didn’t give me your coin pouch,” Squeek said, grinning. Loid responded with a smile of his own.

“Good job. Just for that reason, I made sure that most of those books that I chose weren't in every book story and in a lot of quantities," I said as an extra, giving everyone a smile. "Now there’s only ten of you left,” I said, standing up and closing the backpack. “All of you, remaining ten, say your name and prove your worth!” I looked at the first one, who happened to be Aurora.

Aurora threw ten books in front of herself. There were few mentioned ones, and others were about demons or battle strategies. “I’m Aurora. I know every battle tactic, and I can aid in making strategies. The best way to win the war is if our formation is correct. For example, we should try to split the demon army into smaller ones. Demons are stronger when they are together. We don't want that. There are many ways how to split them up. Another one-”

“Alright!” I interrupted, raising my hand. Aurora coughed. I looked at Loid. “Next.”

“I’m Loid. I have no idea what those books have in it,” he said, putting out all the books. They were all requested book, including the one that had a similar title. The remaining five were mostly information about demons or other beings that could work under the demons. “But I gathered all those books within an hour. So I can gather information quickly. Just tell me what you need.”

To be honest, I was slightly impressed. One hour was way under my fastest estimate. And the book choices were impressive as well. For me, he was the clear winner.

“Next,” I said, looking at a younger woman.

So, I’ll be honest here, while the next ones were also intriguing and had interesting points, for the sake of your sanity, I’ll skip them. We all care about one particular student, don’t we?

“And finally, you,” I said, after listening other seven students, finally looking at Squeek.

He stood up. “I’m Squeek,” he said, doing yet another slight bow. “To be fair, I don’t really need the job anymore. I got so much money that it's unnecessary,” he began, which was fair. “But for the sake of lesson" - he placed his ten pointless books on top of each other, but the very top seemed to be a single good one, creating an illusion as he had a worthwhile pile of books - “I also memorized a lot of basic information about those sought after books. I had to do it, so I could sell the information later. I also know who is the most suited for certain jobs. A lot of previous points that you heard was information that I sold them. And I can tell you who right now should not be hired. I won’t say it out loud, though.” - quiet giggling between the students was heard - ”In other words, I'm a good spy. I also helped most of the students to gather basic information, so they are much more prepared for the demon army. And finally, I earned a lot of money in the process. Not that it matters because I would keep all the money. But if it shows anything, then the fact that I’m financially okay. So I guess it means I’m not doing it entirely for money?” As he finished, he got himself seated, once more.

“Thank you, Squeek,” I said, getting myself seated as well. “Well done everyone!” I said, sharing a wide smile and started to clap. “Give yourself a clap.”

Everyone joined the applause. In the end, everyone was smiling. Hopefully many had learned something. “So, who should win?” I asked, looking at the loser side.

“Squeek,” one of them said it out loud.

“Hands up, if you'd vote for Squeek!” I said. Most people raised their hand. “Congratulations, Squeek. You won this game. As a reward, have this.” I took something out of my pocket and threw it towards Squeek. He caught it easily.

“Oh. It’s chocolate, looking like hero’s badge,” Squeek said, grinning. I nodded.

“Now, before we all go home, here’s a final monologue about today’s lesson. The quest itself was absurd, but it was made so that you would think. Often, when you get a quest, it’s important to listen and understand what needs to be done in the first place. When you understand that, you can gather information. Gathering information is extremely important. As we heard, many of you are now a lot more prepared for the quest. You know what beings or monsters or demons you could meet. You're prepared.

“Why risk with the failure, if you can increase the chance for the success? If your mission is to kill goblins, you should know everything about goblins. You might be fine as well, but if you do simple research, you might learn that goblins like to live in caves. And caves often aren’t wide or tall. So you might want to have a knife or shorter short-sword for that quest. You want your sword to hit a goblin, not the wall. Otherwise, you might do a rookie mistake, slash sword too wide, hitting the wall instead, and the next thing you see is goblin's sword stuck inside your guts.”

I looked over all of them, slowly. “You will learn to fight, or how to handle your magic by others. As you adventure, you'll get stronger. But one thing that everyone can do is prepare for the adventure about to come. Sometimes it can be annoying, or boring. But when knowledge saves your life, you’ll be grateful.

“However, don’t forget that not everything is written in the book. If the goblin army is lead by a human, you shouldn’t expect the typical goblin behavior. And sometimes, some information changes.”

There was a moment of silence. I clapped my hands together once more. “That’s all. It’s very late, and you’re all probably very tired. I want all of you to donate your bought books to the school’s library. Have a nice weekend. And make up with your friends, if you need to! As I said, no hard feelings! Now go!”

It was a nice lesson and a nice reminder for myself as well. And after getting thanked by many students, I also went home. Of course, Aldrynte was waiting for me - in her usual sleeping gear - and wasn’t happy about my sneaking away.

And as a final side note; I also heard many stories that happened in the city between the students. It was amazing how much drama there was. Thank god I’m not like one of them.

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A note from Elven

Thank you for reading, as always. Love and appreciate all of you!

Thoughts about the new character, Squeek?

Fun fact - the first time I thought up Squeek was for a dnd game, where I was invited to join for only one session. I loved the character so much that I decided to introduce him to you. Cheers!


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About the author

Elven

  • Matthew E. Damson

Bio: 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.

You can read my stuff and shorts at reddit.com/r/Elven

If you like my stuff, I'd really appreciate if you'd become patreon or perhaps show your supports with any other means ^^. Or show it via comments, discussing the story and sharing your thoughts.

I'm not the best at grammar, but I try to fight against it with a better story-writing.

Cheers, and thank you each and one of you who support me and my writing in any way! You have no idea how much it matters to me!

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