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“May I get you something to drink?” Our waiter asks everyone at the table.

 

“Bring us a bottle of dragon blood wine and your freshest juice for the lady.” Mr. Grey orders for the table.

 

“Right away, Master Grey.” Our waiter gives us a crisp bow and leaves our private room.

 

“Is this the first restaurant you’ve been to?” Grey asks from across the table.

 

"The first one ever since I was born," I make sure to phrase it like that in case he has a lie-detecting skill.

 

“Is there anything you’re curious about?” Grey continues to make small-talk.

 

"The man brings us drinks and food; then you pay him, it isn't the most complicated profession in the world." I give him a look that says, 'I'm not a child.'

 

Grey laughs, “That’s what would happen outside; this is a private room. Instead of picking between the daily options, we’ll be trying everything in small courses.” Dang it, I wanted to see the look on his face when I ordered everything on the menu.

 

A knock comes from the door, and after three seconds, our waiter comes in, expertly balancing a tray with two jugs and seven wine glasses on top of one of his hands. The man dances around our table, gracefully placing a wineglass in front of each of us before he sets the two jugs in the center of our table with lightning-fast movements, all without spilling a drop.

 

"The dragon blood is in the jug on the right, and we have our house juice blend next to it. Does anyone need anything else?" Our waiter scans each of our faces with a professional smile.

 

“Everything should be fine. I’d like some privacy until the food is ready.” Grey once again answers for the table.

 

“Of course, you can signal for me if anything changes.” Our server bows again and quickly retreats from the room.

 

This restaurant is so fancy. The walls of our room are plastered, and tasteful artwork is hung symmetrically on each wall. Our chairs have cushions that are softer than my bed at home, and the staff all look professional.

 

Grey reaches for the jug of wine and pours the deep red liquid into his glass before handing it to Max, who's sitting next to him.

 

I grab the other pitcher and fill my glass; as soon as it's full, I take a sip of the pink juice. An incredible array of blended flavors lights up my taste buds, and I can't help but smile.

 

"Do you like the juice?" Grey asks me while swirling his beverage in his hand. "Alizo has a room enchanted to help preserve his ingredients. You won’t find fresher juice for at least another two months.”

 

“I believe you,” I say before taking another drink.

 

“This place is known for having the best food and wine in Drey,” Grey continues to boast.

 

"In that case, I should ask for another glass so I can try the wine,” I remark.

 

“Dragon’s blood wine is meant for high-leveled people and seasoned drinkers. I don’t think you’re old enough to handle such a drink and especially not with you leaving tomorrow.” Grey acts like he’s an uncle admonishing a niece.

 

"I'll have you know; I'm old enough to…" I stop myself before let my age slip.

 

Narrowing my eyes, I wag a finger at Grey. “Nice try,” I enunciate each word. I turn my head away from him and change the subject. “How long until dinner arrives?”

 

Grey sighs in defeat. “You know, you’re not making this easy for me.”

 

I look back at him with a confused face. “I’ve tried to be nice, yet you haven’t lowered your guard since you entered my office. What am I supposed to tell headquarters after you leave? She's good at examining materials; I'll be laughed at if I can only tell them that."

 

I'm shocked by his sudden candid nature. Why is he telling me this? I quickly scan the room with Sense Mana to make sure there are no abnormalities, but other than noting the thick walls and magic items on his person, I can't see anything that would explain why Grey would suddenly open up.

 

"There isn't anything hidden in the room; you can relax. Alizio has earned his clienteles trust; no one will interrupt us until the food is ready.” Grey reassures me after noticing that I’m examining the room.

 

I look away from Grey and take note that I’m not the only one surprised by his candid attitude. Kervin, Lurte, and Ryiba look just as shocked as I am, and Reel is watching like this is an entertaining play.

 

I face Grey and try to harden my expression. "And? Do you think it's my problem? We aren't friends; you've been trying to extract information from me ever since you meet me!”

 

“Yeah,” Grey nods his head like he didn’t just admit to secretly watching me. “I was told you could be quite defensive, but I underestimated your paranoia.”

 

My jaw drops in disbelief.

 

"You're leaving tomorrow, and I haven't learned anything of significance. My previous tries proved useless, so I decided to try a different approach. I'm sure you have your own questions, so why don't we make it a game. We take turns asking each other questions, and if we can't answer, we merely need to say pass."

 

“And you’ll skip any questions that mean anything, making the whole thing pointless,” I challenge back.

 

"You can ask me the first few questions if you'd like? I’m sure my answers will show my sincerity.” Mr. Grey takes a swig of his wine, looking confident.

 

Everyone in the room is watching the two of us.

 

“And you’re fine with Kervin listening in?” I remind him that there are other people in the room besides us.

 

“That’s a weird first question, but I’ll answer it all the same. Max is my personal bodyguard; I trust him with my life. Kervin is an employee of Silver Herd and has Reel watching his every move; if he starts spilling secrets, he’ll be taken care of along with his bodyguards. That means everything we say in this room will strictly stay between my boss and us; I'd stake my life on it."

 

I can't believe he just said that! I look over at Kervin to see him and his two bodyguards looking at Reel like he's holding a knife to their throats. He just blatantly stated they're disposable.

 

"What else?" Grey pulls my attention back to him, uncaring how he just spread turmoil throughout the room.

 

He was able to answer that question because it didn't pertain to him. Let's see how he answers a question no one would answer. "All right then, what’s your level and stat build?” I give him a smug look.

 

There’s no way he would…

 

"I'm level 57, and most of my status points went into Vitality and Mind," He tells me without hesitation. “Something else you’re curious about?” Mr. Grey sips his wine, looking like he hasn’t a care in the world.

 

I underestimated this man. I was so sure that he wouldn’t give me any useful information.

 

I bite my lip in frustration. A part of me wants to take Mr. Grey up on his offer, but another part of me is skeptical if I can genuinely trust anything he says.

 

While I’m debating the merits of continuing Grey’s game, he sits comfortably in his chair, waiting for me to ask another question. I decide the payoff is worth the risk and continue asking him questions. I use my third question to ask something that’s been making me worried for a while now. “How much danger am I in for working with Silver Herd?”

 

Mr. Grey leans back in his chair and folds his hands in front of him. "That's an excellent question. I could lie and tell you everything will be fine, but I'd doubt you'd believe me. The truth is, right now, you're in little to any real danger. Our competitors are no doubt focusing on the war."

 

He looks at me with a serious expression. “Of course, that’s only right now; you haven't drawn any eyes to yourself yet. Your blacksmithing talent is incredible, but few around here could see the true value of your work. As you further improve your craft, people will start to take notice, and that’s when things will get complicated.”

 

“And when they do?” I ask.

 

“Then things will get more difficult for you," Grey honestly answers me. "It will start small, people coming to meet you, you'll definitely receive offers from influential people, and everyone will try to curry your favor. Depending on how you respond, it will take a while before people start trying to use underhanded techniques. When that happens, it will be our job to help you any way we can. If we’re lucky, it will be another year before people like will start to appear. Until then, I don’t see you suffering any danger from working with us.”

 

There’s a lot to unpack. He seems confident about his answer, meaning I have one more year to improve myself enough that I won’t be intimidated by whoever comes looking for me.

 

"I think it's my turn now," Mr. Grey smiles at me. "Unlike you, I feel like starting out simple. My first question is how old are you?"

 

“You’re asking how old I am?” I repeat in disbelief.

 

“It’s a valid question. Kervin has continued to remain tight-lipped about your personal details. After how you reacted to the wine issue, it made me curious. How young are you?”

 

I'm tempted to say 'pass' to see his reaction, but that would ruin the nature of what we have going. "I turned fifteen at the beginning of fall," I tell him.

 

Mr. Grey, Max, and even Reel look at me in wide-eyed shock. Only Kervin and his bodyguards knew how young I was.

 

“You just turned fifteen!” Grey shouts in disbelief.

 

“It’s been five months,” I playfully point out while sipping my juice.

 

“You haven’t even attended your first summer solstice yet; you're practically still a child."

 

I can’t help but scowl at Grey’s remark. “Just because I haven’t had a chance to drink with the village for the first time, doesn’t mean I’m a child.”

 

Only those above the age of fifteen are allowed to attend the summer solstice banquet that takes place at the beginning of the year. The village celebrates making it through winter, and the banquet also functions as a debut for all the people who reached the age of fifteen during the previous year. Even if a family has a birthday party for someone turning fifteen, they aren’t really considered an adult until the summer solstice.

 

“I’m sorry,” Grey holds up his hands in defense, clearly trying not to laugh at how worked up I am over my age.

 

“How old are you?!” I ask in my anger.

 

“I’m seventy-six,” Grey answers. “I believe that it’s my turn again.” He doesn’t give me time to ponder his age. “What made you want to be a blacksmith?”

 

I'm once again surprised by his question. I thought he would use this chance to ask for more personal information from me. "Why do you want to know that?"

 

“A lot can be learned from someone based on their career choice. You’re accustomed to bartering, you can hunt magic beasts, and most importantly, you taught yourself magic. It seems you excel at everything you try, so why did you choose blacksmithing?”

 

I know Grey just asked me a question, but he just said something important that takes precedent. "What do you mean; I taught myself magic? My master…"

 

“We already know your master can’t use magic,” Mr. Grey cuts me off.

 

"That," I can't think of anything to say! I know I need to say something to defend Master Del, but Grey's confident expression leaves me with no room for me to refute his claims. I ball my hands into fists to keep myself from shaking.

 

“Your master’s circumstances don’t concern me; I’d much rather we talk about why you chose to be a blacksmith.” Grey tries to steer me back to his question.

 

“Not until you tell me what you know about my master.” I lean forward and don’t budge on the issue.

 

Mr. Grey rubs one of his eyes. “Fine, you can sit back in your chair, I’ll tell you.” He waits for me to settle down before telling me how he has information on Master Del. “Your master did business with the founder of Silver Herd before his company took off. He lost a lot of money, believing a wandering Stone-Kin happened to land in his lap. Unfortunately, your master couldn’t deliver the goods that were expected of him.”

 

“How do you know it was my master and not another Stone-Kin?” I point out a hole in his logic.

 

Mr. Grey chuckles at my question. "You've spent your life in a small corner of the world, so it doesn't surprise me you don't know how rare Stone-Kin are in these parts. Sanctioned crafters from the great mountain cities sometimes travel outside their homes, but special guards always escort them. The only Stone -Kin allowed to leave their cities unescorted are those deemed useless or 'Stripped' in their own words. The chances that two such individuals happened to end up near here is close to zero."

 

“That doesn’t mean…”

 

“Records at the home office say the Stone-Kin went by the name Del-Razen, does that sound familiar?” I freeze, and my silence tells Grey everything he needs to know.

 

Does that mean Silver Herd has a grudge with master!? This could be bad; I nervously rub one of my arms.

 

Seeing my increasing distress, Mr. Grey reassures me that there is no bad blood between his company and master. "That all happened a long time ago, and Silver Herd is more than willing to let the past stay buried on account of our friendship. This was never something you needed to concern yourself with."

 

I watch Grey take a large swig of his wine. “Let’s get back to our questions, of which I answered quite a few for you. I hope you’ll return the favor. I’d like to hear your answer now.”

 

“I…” As soon as I start to answer his question, I’m interrupted by knocking coming from our door.

 

After a few seconds, it opens, and our waiter walks in, balancing a larger tray. “I have the first course for you tonight." Our server approaches the table and notices the strained look on Grey's face. “Is something the matter Mr. Grey?”

 

“Everything is fine,” Grey says through his teeth, unconvincingly.

 

Realizing he came in at an awful moment, our waiter quickly places a small bowl of soup in front of each of us without breaking his courtesy smile. "What you have in front of you is…"

 

"Excuse me, sir," I catch his attention before he tells us what we're having.

 

“Yes, miss,” Our waiter asks me in a professional tone despite my interruption.

 

“Can you tell us what we had after you bring in the next round?”

 

Mr. Grey and everyone else give me a questioning look, but the server's professional smile softens and is replaced with a genuine smile. "It's been a while since I served someone so young with the Gourmet skill.”

 

“Do people with the Gourmet skill ask you that often?” I curiously ask.

 

“Indeed, Miss. It’s common for people with the skill to ask for discretion when it comes to their food. Is there anything else I can help with?” He surveys the table and moves to leave when no one answers. “I hope you enjoy it.” He bows towards my direction before leaving the room once again.

 

“You have the Gourmet skill; how did that happen?” Grey sends me a questioning glance.

 

“Which do you want me to answer, how I got my skill, or why I chose blacksmithing?” I playfully grin.

 

“I think you can answer both after I explained so much about your master.” Grey retorts.

 

"I got the Gourmet skill after trying to eat a giant spider in the woods, nothing too crazy." Kervin hesitates to lift a spoonful of soup to his mouth.

 

I ignore the looks directed at me and try my own soup. As the spoon nears my mouth, I notice it smells like a garden in bloom. I take a bite expecting intense flavors, but instead, the soup is an ensemble of many unique mellow flavors that build off one another. This soup is delicious!

 

The few holdouts at the table try their soup when they see the big grin on my face.

 

“To answer your other question,” I tell Grey in between bites, “I thought it would be cool to learn blacksmithing.”

 

“That isn’t what I meant.” Grey gives me a meaningful look. “Most people pick a profession if they have talent in it or they enjoy it over their other options. In your opinion, what put blacksmithing over being a merchant or a mage?" Grey probes for a more profound answer.

 

I take a few more bites of my soup while thinking about his question. What were the reasons I chose blacksmithing?

 

When I think I have my answer, I focus back on Mr. Grey. “Before I knew about enchanters, I was told mages usually have to join the army to further their craft. When I was little, I was in a hunting accident with my father, and we encountered a karhu. I ran away as my father instructed but ran right into a small group of goblins. I managed to kill them, of course, but it made me realize I don't want my whole life to be about killing. I have no problem defending my home and family, but I didn't want a profession where I’m forced to seek out people and creatures to kill. It’s more fun for me to create than destroy. Does that better answer your question?”

 

“You seemed rather eager to fight the goblins we encountered, to me,” Reel utters off to the side.

 

Grey quirks his eyebrow at me.

 

“I know Reel makes a good point. As I grew stronger, I realized I want to push myself further. I know I can be a hypocrite sometimes, who isn’t? Those goblins were no real threat to us, and I jumped at the chance to fight them just to relieve my boredom. I never said I was perfect," I explain to the table.

 

"None of us have the right to criticize you, especially Reel." Mr. Grey sends a knowing look across the table at Reel, who ignores him in favor of his soup. He looks back at me and says, “I believe it’s your turn again.”

 

I choose to try a broader question, “Can you tell me anything important that I’m missing?”

 

Mr. Grey chuckles, “That shouldn’t count, but I’ll give you something for trying. The first thing that comes to mind is that you need to hide your mana better. Even if a person can't sense mana, there are tricks out there that tell a person if you're a mage or not based on how much magic is leaking from your body. To the trained eye, you're an uneducated mage with a decent mana pool.”

 

I drop my spoon in my bowl and immediately activate Sense Mana!

 

He’s right!

 

The natural diffusion of mana from my skin is plain for me to see, and I can see the same thing happening to Lurte, Ryiba, and Kervin. I glance around the room and notice that Reel, Grey, and Max are all shielded from my casual scan thanks to their magic tools. Only Reel and Max appear to have a talent in using mana, but Grey’s magic tool obscures the mana leaking from his body. Grey might have an average-sized mana pool compared to an average person, but his magic tool hides what little he has.

 

“Can you help me get a magic tool like the one you guys use?” I quickly ask Mr. Grey.

 

Mr. Grey looks at me, surprised, and raises his hand to the top of his chest where his amulet is hidden. "I forgot; I was warned you could see through obscuring magic tools.” He looks like he is pondering my request. “I’ll have a few prepared for you to look at before you leave tomorrow. We’ll add the cost to your tab.”

 

An awkward silence fills the table for a moment.

 

“I don’t suppose you’ll tell me how you’re able to see through our magic tools?” Mr. Grey tentatively asks me.

 

"Will you tell me how Reel can communicate with you?" I retort.

 

“I guess that means we’ll each skip this round, bringing it back to me.” Grey doesn’t appear to be too affected by me not answering his question. “What are your plans for the future?”

 

I see he’s taking the same approach I did. “Can you clarify your question for me, please?"

 

“I want to know what your short- and long-term goals are. Silver Herd can better help you if we know what you’re working towards.”

 

I haven't really thought about my future goals before now. I've always found a new goal to work towards, but I've never really planned anything out long-term. A few knocks on our door buy me enough time to ponder the question further.

 

"I brought your next round; how did you enjoy the mage's garden soup?" Our waiter listens to everyone mutter pleasantries as he walks around the table, switching out our soup bowls for plates with meat that looks like ribs on it with a lightly toasted piece of bread next to the meat.

 

Our server makes sure that I’m the last one to receive the new course. After I have my new plate of food in front of me, he waits nearby, obviously wanting to hear my take on the soup. "The soup was amazing; I’ve never had vegetables so well prepared before.” I give him a warm smile.

 

“The chef will be pleased,” He gives me a short bow before addressing the table. “Is there anything else I can get for you?”

 

A chorus of ‘no thank you’s’ ring out across the table before Mr. Grey dismisses him again.

 

Once the door is shut, I answer the previous question before I try my food. “I guess my short-term goals are to learn enchanting and increase my skills and level before the army or someone else comes looking for me. Long-term is more difficult for me, but I think I want to travel after I know I'm strong enough. You showed me many amazing materials earlier, and I want to see where they came from for myself. I want to forge armor, weapons, and magic tools that are known across the continent.” I surprise not only everyone at the table with my goals but myself as well. It feels like a mental block has been removed after I clearly proclaimed what I want to do with my new life.

 

“Lofty goals, indeed. I’m sure you’ll be able to do it. Is there anything you wish to ask for, something you’re missing to help with your goals?" The look in Mr. Grey's eyes has slightly changed, like I'm no longer a talented blacksmith but something greater in the making.

 

There is one thing that would immensely help me. “Can you get me directions on how to make engraving ink?” I try asking him for the one thing that will save me weeks of trial and error.

 

Mr. Grey rubs his face and sighs deeply. “I thought you would ask for some ore samples or maybe a chance to examine some special magic tools. I didn't think you would ask for something impossible like that. Enchanters keep information like that hidden from their own families; you'd have more luck asking a dragon for its treasure.”

 

“I don’t need the whole treasure, just a single coin,” I explain to him. “I know I won’t get the private details unless I apprentice under a master enchanter. I’m asking if you can get me the general steps in making engraving ink. Like, crush eathrosse and devil's paste, then add to water. I don't need exact details or secret recipes; I need a starting point before I begin experimenting with the materials I bought.”

 

“I can’t guarantee anything. I’ll have to contact headquarters and see what we can do, but please don’t get your hopes up. Let’s eat while it’s still hot and continue our questions later.” Grey picks up his bread and takes a bite.

 

I look down at my food sitting in front of me. I quickly rip off a rib chunk and take a bite. My eyes roll up into my head when I taste the flavor. On the rare occasions mother had made ribs for us; she only used a fraction of the seasoning I taste with these ribs, and the warm pulses of mana I feel coming from my stomach tell me this is magic beast meat.

 

A bite of the bread, and I can tell it’s like a mix of sourdough and wheat flavors smothered in butter and something close to garlic.

 

As soon as my budget opens up, I’m having Kervin get his hands on as many seasonings as he can get.

 

When everyone is almost done with their serving, Mr. Grey continues our conversation. “Has your opinion of us changed at all? I would like to hope the food and conversation have earned me a smidgen of goodwill."

 

“Before I answer that, can I ask you one last question for the night?”

 

“Other than that one?” Grey jokes.

 

I ignore the horrible play at humor. "Why are you and Silver Herd trying so hard? I understand why Kervin wants to work with me, profits, and all that, but sending Reel, this dinner, wanting to know my goals, I'm only one person." I slightly frown.

 

The delight on Mr. Grey's face fades away, and he gives me a severe look. "You're the only person in this room that doesn't understand how special you are."

 

I glance around the table and notice everyone is watching me with an expression that matches Grey’s.

 

“Your age, your level, your amazing talent with everything you do, a person like yourself comes around once every thousand years. You're a higher level than me, and I'm over four times your age. You might be used to your master and parents telling you how talented you are, but that doesn't do you justice. A year from now, maybe two, maybe three or more, people will know your name." The hair on the back of my neck stands up.

 

“You are the single greatest investment Silver Herd has ever encountered, and you don't even realize it. You may be only one person, but in history, kingdoms have risen and fallen by the hands of one person. My boss sees your talent, I see your talent, and even the great General Emily Pitz is aware of your talent. You said it yourself; you want to forge goods that resonate throughout the kingdom, and Silver Herd wants to be the company that helps you do it." Mr. Grey fills up his glass and downs the entire contents in one big gulp.

 

“I…” I freeze in my seat, unable to fully comprehend what I was just told.

 

“I don’t want your answer right now,” Grey tells me from across the table. “You can answer my question tomorrow morning; for now, let’s enjoy the rest of our dinner.”

 


 

I lay in bed back at Kervin's house, staring up at the ceiling, stomach so full I don't even want to roll onto my side. The rest of the dinner was terrific despite the atmosphere. We had a pot pie dish after the ribs and cookies dipped in tarick paste for dessert.

 

Looking for a distraction, I pull up my full status page.

 

LV: 63 Experience: 430,186/ 514,704

Health: 2,090/2,090

Stamina: 1,243.71/1,403

Mana: 522.93/1,010

Vitality: 209.00

Endurance: 80.15

Strength: 132.00

Dexterity: 125.00

Senses: 60.64

Mind: 62.83

Magic: 101.07

Clarity: 75.79

Status Points: 0

Skills:

Tier 1:

Meditation (LV78), Running (LV73), Blacksmithing (LV67), Axe Skills (LV55), Hammer Skills (LV55), Cleaning (LV51), Mining (LV48), Chanting (LV47), Drawing (LV46), Trading (LV39), Cooking (LV38), Dagger Skills (LV31), Wood Carving (LV31), Acting (LV30), Sword Skills (LV26), Sewing (LV24), Pugilist Skills (LV4), Spear Skills (LV2)

Tier 2:

Sense Mana (LV78), Double Step (LV60), Charm (LV50), Measurement (LV46), Hammer Arts (LV40), Axe Arts (LV36), Writing (LV32), Intimidating Shout (LV31), Mathematics (LV30), Increase Price (LV17), Lower Price (LV17), Dagger Arts (LV12), Sword Arts (LV10), Steady Hands (LV10), Gourmet (LV7), Marching (LV5), Shout of Valor (LV1),

Tier 3:

Expel Mana (LV60), Mana Manipulation (LV54), Precise Strike (LV37), Double Strike (LV35), Weighted Strike (LV26), Flash Step (LV18), Contract (LV2)

Tier 4:

Inject Mana (LV49), Mana Skin (LV49), Mental Resistance (LV47), Extract Mana (LV28), Magic Blacksmithing (LV20), Empowered Spell (LV2)

Tier 5:

Sense Soul (LV33)

 

Increased Skill Levels

Cleaning (LV51) 2,550exp

Trading (LV39) 1,950

Gourmet (LV3-7) 2,500exp

Mana Manipulation (LV54) 8,100exp

Empowered Spell (LV1-2) 750exp

 

Skill Experience: 15,850exp

Crafting Experience: 714exp

Fighting Experience: 592exp

 

Total experience Gained: 17,156exp

 

It’s only been a few days since I last checked my status page, and I haven't done much since then, but I need something to take my mind off of what Grey said.

 

Looking at the numbers almost makes me want to laugh. I earned more experience trading with Grey earlier than I did killing those goblins, and we didn't even finalize the deal yet.

 

No, stop thinking about deals with Mr. Grey, I shake my head back and forth.

 

I refocus on my status page. Gourmet went up five levels after the fantastic dinner we had.

 

Damn it, as soon as I think about dinner; my mind goes back to what Grey said! If I keep ignoring it, I won't get any sleep,

 

I wonder if I'm as important as he said? I don't think of myself as someone with a big head, but I can’t ignore everything he told me. According to him, my life in the village will eventually get hectic, and even if my family moves away, the same thing will only happen again as I continue to level my skills.

 

Short of me turning into a hermit, I have to accept that Mr. Grey said about me was true.

 

I suddenly wish I was back home to ask mother and father for their advice and maybe a hug. It seems like every day now; things are moving faster and faster.

 

Tomorrow morning, I need to meet with Grey once more and immediately set out afterwards for home. If I make it back in time, I’ll have about a week to forge the arrow.

 

Winter should be ending soon, and the snow will start to melt in another two weeks. Brother and Sandra will be coming home, and who knows if the local lord will be sending troops to clear out the forest.

 

To think it was only about six months ago, the goblin hoard was spotted in the forest.

 

This pace feels normal to me now. Defending the village, improving and forging large amounts of goods, now tomorrow I’ll be running a delivery with a timer over my head.

 

 

And I’ve never gained as much experience as I have in the last few months.

 

If I’m being honest with myself, I like the way things have been going. Every day is a new challenge, and every order from the general is another mountain to climb.

 

In the last six months, I've fought incredible beasts and forged my best works ever, and with the materials tomorrow, I'll try to forge an arrow that someone over level 100 will use.

 

And if Mr. Grey is telling the truth, I'm getting the materials for a steal. I came to this city nervous about meeting the man, and my fears were well-founded. Lennard Grey is calculative, shady, and, worst of all, well informed. That said, the man answered questions that were heavily weighing on my mind. He treated our dinner like an interview, and if I weren't experienced with the process from my past life, I wouldn't have noticed it.

 

He asked questions to judge my character and work ethic, all while up selling his company. I'll take everything he said with a grain of salt, but I don't think he lied to me once the whole night.

 

Let’s see if I have the same opinion of him after we haggle prices tomorrow.

 

I pull the sheets up and close my eyes and enter my soul space. I need to rest, but I'm too excited about tomorrow. Thank the gods I can calm myself in my soul while my body relaxes.

 


 

Lennard Grey’s Point of View:

 

“Was everything Four told us about her true?” Giovanni’s voice comes through my communication device.

 

"Everything and then some. She puts every fifteen-year-old girl I've met in my life to shame." I laugh in my quiet office. Max stands perfectly still in his corner, listening through the wall, making sure no one is eavesdropping. Once Aaliyah starts turning out unique goods, I'll be able to afford to enchant my office like Giovanni has.

 

“Fifteen!” Giovanni’s surprised voice brings a bigger smile to my face.

 

“Hasn’t even attended her first Solstice party yet,” I tell him. I’m sure he can tell I’m smiling at the absurdity of it all.

 

“How did your meeting go?” He tries to steer the conversation, hoping to hide how shocked he is.

 

"It was challenging, to say the least," I complain. "Even with a room full of precious materials to look over, she never let her guard down around me. I had to change tactics for our dinner, which proved much more fruitful. She's driven, and most importantly, not filled with leveling bloodlust. If we send people to interact with her, I doubt she'd kill them even if they offended her."

 

“That’s good to hear. What about her skills, could you figure anything out?”

 

“She has skills that let her see the detailed intricacy of mana inside objects. I think that’s why our magic items didn’t work against her and the reason she’s able to teach herself enchanting.” I tell him my theory, making sure he knows I’m doing my job.

 

"That's crazy, how many mages in the kingdom do you think have that kind of skill in seeing mana!? If you're right, we severely underestimated her magic potential. Did she ask you for anything? If we can find a way to make her feel like she's in our debt, the better our position will be.”

 

“She did ask for one thing,” I can’t help but tease.

 

“Whatever it is, do it, no matter how difficult it might be!”

 

“She wants instructions to make engraving ink.” The line goes quiet. I wait for Giovanni to pick his jaw off the floor.

 

“That’s the only thing she asked for?” Giovanni hopefully asks.

 

“That and a mana shielding magic tool I already promised her,” I inform him. “She did say she only needed an outline of the process and not an enchanter’s private recipe. I warned her I couldn’t make any promises and told her it would take a while.”

 

“Tell her the information will be ready in a week. Kervin can deliver it when he goes to pick up the arrow.”

 

“Is that even possible?” I ask

 

"I'll have to call in multiple favors, and even then, I might need to use unconventional channels, but it will be worth it. Enchanters hold a monopoly on their goods. If Aaliyah can copy runes straight from the magic tools as we believe, then we can have her replicate the items at a fraction of the cost!” Giovanni exceedingly shouts through our magic tools.

 

“She can’t engrave yet,” I hear Marshall remind Giovanni on the other end of the line.

 

Giovanni coughs, collecting himself. “Did you ask her about her ties to the Panetta family?”

 

“I couldn’t find a good time to ask her, without risking the goodwill I was earning. I’ll make sure to ask tomorrow morning when her guard is lowered,” I inform him.

 

“See that you do. With all the coincidences around Spotted Creek Village, I’m starting to believe the gods are playing tricks with us.”

 

"You can count on me, boss. I'll get the information we need." I try to sound patriotic towards Giovanni.

 

"I know you will, and if something should go wrong, you can always send your lead receptionist to handle it." I grit my teeth at his suggestion.

 

“Do you want to hear the exact details of our dinner?” I asked, clenching my fists.

 

“No need! I’ll get everything I need from Four. We're done for tonight; contact me when she leaves for her village. Water raven taking off."

 

“Burning river stopping,” I quickly reply. The magic tool goes dark, and I hope he didn't hear the anger behind my voice.

 

“I get that man the best intel he has on the girl, and he threatens me! Does he think I’m afraid of that whore at the front desk!?” I slam my fists down onto my desk.

 

I’ll show him; I just need a little more time.

 

I’ll help the girl reach new heights and make sure she knows it’s me who’s really helping her. Once she grows a little more, I’ll use her as a bargaining chip to get everything I deserve and more.

 

I started working under his father, and my branch brings in the most income for the company, and my profits have only grown as I help manage the Teeburn deliveries.

 

I’ve built up everything I need in this backwater city to make my move into greener pastures, and Aaliyah is my ticket to opening the gate.

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A note from kosnik4

 

 

I wish everyone a Merry Christmas,

A happy Hanukkah,

An amazing Kwanzaa,

That no evil finds you on Shabe-Yalda,

Or simply have a great Festivus with your family,

 

P.S. I had to look those last three up.

 

I hope you enjoyed the chapter, and as always, stay safe.

 

No matter what you celebrate or who you’re with, I wish you the greatest of times.


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kosnik4

Bio: Just love a good story.

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