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Master Pacore the Deathless’ Point of View:

 

“Jason! Which of these blasted papers has the city’s food figures?” I snap at my young aide.

 

“The one on your left, sir.” He points out a piece of parchment covered from top to bottom with numbers.

 

“And the schedule for the patrols?”

 

"That's this one," Jason pulls a piece of paper from a stack that was partially leaning off my desk.

 

I grit my teeth in frustration, trying to decipher the many figures I’m reading.

 

"Wow, you're terrible at this." My hands tighten slightly at Jason's remark, crumpling the parchment in my hands. I scowl at the young man, but he continues to smirk at my distress. "I thought someone of your standing would be used to the paperwork."

 

“I am Master Pacore the Deathless, not Pacore the Accountant. I have reliable servants like yourself to take care of these matters for me!”

 

“Aww, you think I’m reliable? That makes me feel all fuzzy inside.” Young Jason pretends to swoon like a maiden in love.

 

I admit I underestimated the young man, his ability to read people and change his personality depending on who he's talking to is top-notch. I'm not even sure if he was truly afraid of me a week ago when we negotiated the surrender of Drey or if that was merely a front he put on to deal with me.

 

It only took him seeing me interact with General Pitz once to determine I respect and prefer dealing with confident people rather than sniveling cowards and adjusted himself as such. I can only guess that his talents were squandered by the previous city lord, seeing how apt he is at organizing everything.

 

"According to reports, the city has enough food to function for another two weeks before you'll need to start implementing rationing," young Jason informs me.

 

“And the fields?” I ask him. “How are they going?”

 

"Many of the citizens have noticed the food situation. People have started to volunteer their services in fixing the surrounding fields. As of now, 7% of the damaged fields have been tilled, while 3.5% of that has already been sown with new seed. Many of our high-level farmers were evacuated from the city, so the crops only benefit from low-tier skills. Crop production should speed up once the refugee farmers arrive."

 

“Any news on them?” I ask, trying to compare what Jason is telling me with the physical reports. Just because I like his new attitude doesn’t mean I take everything Jason says at face value, I’m not that trusting. Though I do admit I apricate his help more and more as the days pass. Jason and a few of my commanders with relevant skills are the ones running most of the city. I have to oversee Jason's every move, but he's yet to do anything suspicious.

 

I'm sure whoever is being sent to run Drey will be quite pleased when they find out they have such a capable aide waiting for them.

 

Just getting to this point was extremely difficult. When the previous city lord fled, he took or destroyed any and all documents related to Drey and its surrounding lands. It was only thanks to young Jason and his knowledge of the city's laws that we were able to take control of everything without ruffling any feathers. He's helped me reestablish a tax system and many other day-to-day facilities that are the lifeblood of any thriving city.

 

Of course, not everyone was happy with us taking over the city. A handful of people tried to sow discord amongst the masses, but Jason proposed a solution that quickly won over the people. Whenever a person or group of people would try to lead a revolt, one of my commanders would show up. Instead of arresting everyone, my commanders took note of everyone's grievances and promised to deliver them to me. The commanders would then leave without punishing anyone as long as they stay peaceful in their demonstrations. It's hard for someone to claim we're violent and exploiting everyone after that kind of response.

 

We took note of everyone trying to stir up trouble, and we’ll continue to monitor their movements. As long as they don’t do anything to really destabilize what we’re trying to accomplish here, we’ll leave them be. For now.

 

“The last report had them two days out. If your farmers are as good as you say they are, then hopefully we’ll get some crops in before people start to revolt out of hunger.” Jason sends me a challenging look.

 

“Scholl farmers are used to working with barren soil. You’ll be eating your words in no time at all,” I confidently reassure him.

 

“I look forward to it,” Jason boldly grins at me.

 

At least I have someone I can have a decent conversation with, like General Pitz. I wonder how she's doing? "Jason."

 

“Yes, sir?”

 

“How has Lady Pitz been faring?”

 

Jason's happy expression cracks, revealing deeper emotions underneath. Jason told me how she's been pulling him aside to ask him questions about the city and the local lord who ran away. "General Pitz has been quite furious lately. Every time I see her, she is cursing the local nobility and how they're responding to your invasion. It's nice knowing the city wasn't sacrificed on the general's orders but that only helps so much.”

 

I can see Jason respects General Pitz as I do, but that doesn't make up for the nobility that left him here to die. Usually, when a city is taken during a war, the leaders are either captured or executed to make an example for the people. They chose to leave young Jason in charge as a sacrifice, something he's sure not to forget.

 

It will take time before I can fully trust young Jason, but I'll make use of the gem the nobles decided to throw away.

 

"As she should be. It's the job of us nobles to rule over the weak. The coward who fled his city has no right to use that title. He should've been leading the defense of his city, a leader like General Pitz knows this. I'm sure she sees the actions of the local nobility as a stain on Olebert's name,” I explain what I believe General Pitz is thinking.

 

“Then they’ll be punished?” Young Jason asks in a cold tone.

 

“They will be,” I tell him. “The only question is will it be through my hand or Olebert’s.”

 

“I understand,” Jason bows his head in appreciation. Young Jason has a last name, meaning he’s from a well-off family, but he's not a noble. People given noble titles, even city lords, are usually seen as untouchable by the masses. It's rare for them to be punished for their actions, and those of lesser standing can only bear with their demands.

 

“But of course, that is all in the future,” I remind young Jason. “Has everyone arrived?”

 

"They should be waiting for you in the conference room," he informs me.

 

"Good," I stand up and walk out of the office, leaving behind my parchment-covered desk.

 

Briskly walking down the city lord’s mansion hallways, followed by young Jason, I pass by barren walls where paintings and other artwork were once hung. It's funny to see the lesser pieces of artwork the previous lord deemed unfit to bring with him during his escape. Back in Scholl, nobles decorate their halls with magic beast materials, symbols of their strength and success, though I can apricate a good painting as much as the next person.

 

Sadly, most of the remaining artwork will need to be sold or traded away in the coming weeks for as much capital as possible. The previous lord didn't just take off with his favorite artwork; he also emptied the city's coffers. A city can only function for so long without any coin in its vault. We've managed to restore the city's basic functions, but certain things need to line up with certain people before it can get back to normal. And my guests should be a few of the people who can help make that happen.

 

Entering the sparse conference room, I take the measure of my five guests. First is Eriel Vellen; she was the second in command of the city's courier guild until her boss who fled the city, leaving her in charge much like Jason. She's a tall thin woman who looks to be the most nervous of my guests.

 

Next, is the gentleman standing in the corner who's wearing a guard uniform minus the gear. Jason informed me his name was Maz, the other guards elected him to represent their interests when we called to meet with their leader. Even without a weapon, he sizes me up with his eyes.

 

The third person is a woman who looks to be in her forties. Bellera Mantals stocky figure is hidden behind her mage robes. She was elected to represent the few remaining mages in Drey, much like Maz was.

 

My last and the most important guest is the head of the local Silver Herd branch, Lennard Grey, and his bodyguard, who's standing behind him. Grey is the second most experienced person in the room besides myself, and he's the only one who looks excited to meet with me. Unlike most of the affluential people of Drey, Grey stayed behind to manage Silver Herd's remaining assets in the city.

 

"Master Pacore the Deathless, it is an honor to meet you in person." The experienced merchant wastes no time in trying to flatter me with a polite bow.

 

I hate dealing with experienced merchants; they have the knowledge and skills to turn most situations to their advantage. His bodyguard looks to be a decent level as well. Not enough to beat me even without my weapon and armor, but still quite decent.

 

“I should imagine so,” I coldly reply to Grey’s greeting. If I give this man an inch, he’ll take a mile. I’m better off using my status to suppress him. “I’m a busy man, so I’ll jump right to the point. I want the four of you to cooperate with me.”

 

The three younger representatives are surprised by my bluntness while Grey smiles only grows as if he saw this coming.

 

“What do you mean?” Maz is the first to ask me a question. “Your men took all our gear.”

 

"And I'm allowing you to earn it back. I can't have my men patrolling the city all day. My men will replace your superiors who fled, and we'll still be in charge of the walls and gates, but I want the previous guards patrolling the city keeping people safe," I explain.

 

“You would give us back our weapons?” Maz asks in disbelief.

 

“Should I not? We both want Drey to remain safe. I’m sure the four of you have heard rumors of why we are here. We are not invading for riches or glory; our people need food. I’m confident the people will soon see Scholl will do a much better job managing this land than Olebert ever has.” Maz remains silent, contemplating what I said.

 

“You ask us to forgo our country,” Bellera Mantals asks in an accusing tone of voice.

 

"If you wish to leave, you can do so in a year once the fighting has calmed down.” I don’t mention our plans to continue our campaign. “But consider who you give your allegiance to. I don’t see a star on your chest, so why were you chosen to represent the mages?”

 

Bellera Mantals holds her tongue, but I can see her balling her fists in anger.

 

"It's because your betters fled the city when they had the chance." I make eye contact with each of the younger representatives.

 

“I didn’t,” Lennard Grey confidently replies.

 

“I wonder why that is?” I send the calculating merchant a look that says I’m not falling for his bivol shit. Directing my attention back to my other guests, I continue to pull them over to our side of things. “I want guards protecting the people, I need mages to help repair the city, and I need to have open lines of communication,” I focus on Eriel Vellen.

 

She flinches back and quietly squeaks out, “most of our prized birds were taken by the manager.”

 

"I am aware. You do still have a few, don't you?" I ask in a softer tone, trying to get her to respond properly.

 

“We do, but none of them are trained to fly to Scholl,” Eriel Vellen confirms. “The only birds we have left are the ones trained to fly to the nearby villages.”

 

"That's fine," I tell her. "When we captured Teeburn, their courier branch didn't have as much time to release their birds. I'll send a message for them to send a few to your branch. Also, one of our tamers is already training a flock of rock vultures to deliver messages to Scholl. They’re more aggressive than your falcons but much more hardy beasts. Can you handle different types of birds?”

 

Eriel Vellen nods her head. “As long as they’re trained properly, we can work with anything that has wings.” She sounds much more confident when she’s talking about her work.

 

“That’s good,” I smile confidently at Maz, Eriel, and Bellera. “If the three of you are up to it, Jason here will help you get your respective operations going again with the three of you as their new leaders.”

 

“What!?” Eriel squeaks.

 

“You want me to supervise every mage in Drey?” Bellera skeptically asks.

 

Maz's eyes widen for a second, but he's the calmest of the three.

 

"I do," I assure them. "The three of you were already chosen to represent your people. My men will still oversee your actions, but I'll trust you to get things moving again."

 

"If the three of you will follow me, we'll discuss individually what each of you needs," young Jason follows the plan I discussed with him earlier and leads most of my guests out of the room.

 

“We’re all alone,” Grey remarks as soon as the conference room door closes behind them. “Shall we discuss business?”

 

His smile makes me want to punch him. I’m going to need a drink after this.

 

**********

 

“How did everything go on your end?” I ask young Jason when he walks back into my temporary office with a new stack of documents meant for the ever growing piles on my desk.

 

“Good,” he smiles when he sees me frowning over more papers. “The hardest part will be overseeing the guard’s reinstatement, but it should still free up most of your men. I was able to renegotiate down the rates for both the courier guild and the mages considering most of their high leveled people left the city. I'm curious, though, what happens if their supervisors try to come back?" Jason doesn't outright say he knows of our plans to take Blaiton, but that's what he's referring to.

 

"Isn't it obvious?" I scoff at my young aide. "If they choose to seek employment, it's up to the heads of the local branches to decide whether or not to take them back." Jason and I share a knowing grin. "Scholl values strength and commitment, and we certainly remember who flees." I remind young Jason.

 

Jason nods in understanding before asking me curiously, "and how was your discussion with Mr. Grey?"

 

I lean back in my chair and sigh, stroking my feathered beard.

 

“It was that bad!?” Jason asks, surprised by my reaction.

 

“Dealing with experienced merchants is always difficult,” I explain to him.

 

"But how can he match you? You're Pacore the Deathless." Jason leans forward, probably wondering why I didn’t just kill the merchant.

 

"He already knew I needed his help," I frown deeply and explain my reasoning to the young aid. "Silver Herd is a growing merchant company. Grey didn't flee when he had the chance because Silver Herd is making plans to do business with us in the future."

 

"He told you that?!" Jason asks wide-eyed.

 

"Not out loud. Silver Herd won't openly support us, but they won't miss out on the chance to do business with us either. Besides, Grey knows that someone has to move goods back and forth between Teeburn and Drey."

 

"Don't you have supply trains bringing in your goods from Scholl? Use those," Jason offers up a quick solution.

 

I shake my head. "It is already hard enough organizing a supply chain, and it will only become more arduous once we start needing to ship food back to Scholl. There needs to be trading between cities, and an established merchant company is the best to do it.”

 

“What did he ask for in return?”

 

“He wants documentation guaranteeing his people safety and preferential treatment when it comes to city contracts.”

 

"That's it?" Young Jason asks, confused. "There were rumors about the previous city lord and Mr. Grey making secret deals with each other. I can't imagine that's all he asked for."

 

"I was surprised by his generosity and willingness to work together as well, but I've met plenty of merchants like him in my day. I can already guess what he's after." I open my special waterskin and take a large swig of alcohol. "He has ambitious eyes. He's probably trying to get in my good graces before his company regains oversight over him."

 

“So, there will be problems in the future,” young Jason quickly understands what I’m alluding to.

 

I drink another mouthful from my waterskin and smile.

 

“You don’t seem too worried,” Jason notices that I’m starting to relax in my chair.

 

“I’m not. It will be a problem for whoever takes over the city, not mine." I grin at my young aide, "but it will most likely be yours."

 

"Great, I'll look forward to it," he says sarcastically, handing me a piece of paper. "Sign that, and I'll have it taken to the couriers guild."

 

"Is this the message I wanted to be sent to all the nearby villages?" I ask while I quickly scan the document.

 

"It is, and now that the courier's guild is reopening, we can send them out," Jason confirms.

 

This is good. We passed by a few villages when we marched on Drey. We spread the word that we were their new rulers. A few villages were even expecting us because the prisoners we released made it back home before we did. I mentioned this to young Jason, and he told me there were many more villages in the vicinity, some of which would take days to reach.

 

Without any formal documents, it will be challenging to know exactly how many villages are now under my control.

 

Thankfully once the old guards are reinstated, I can organize squads of my men to visit each of the villages and explain what is happening. The villages need to know who's in charge and the slight changes we've made. I'm not sure how all the villages will react to us changing the terms of their taxes, but most should be happy when they hear how much credit we're offering for food.

 

In a few days, my replacement should show up, and I'll be free to inspect the surrounding lands myself. Maybe I should take General Pitz with me? She should know a little bit about the area and the fresh air will do her some good.

 

And maybe, I’ll find out where she got that special arrow from?

 

I sit back in my chair and drain the alcohol from my waterskin, smiling to myself.

 

**********

 

Aaliyah’s Point of View:

 

"Tell me, why again are you making me cover up like this?" Sandra complains next to me. Sandra is mad that I made her wear thick clothing and had her tie a rag over her mouth and nose.

 

"Because we're heating an unknown alchemical mixture, and you're pregnant," I remind her for the third time.

 

"But it's so hot," She whines. "At least let me take off the mask." Along with the spring sun, the heat from the forge is making Sandra sweat up a storm. It's a good thing I have her drinking a lot of water.

 

“No,” I promptly shoot down her suggestion. Even though devil's poke and eathrosse aren't poisons in any way, I'm not taking any chances something could happen to my future niece or nephew.

 

"Then what about you? Why aren't you bundled up like I am?" Sandra gives me an accessing look with her exposed eyes.

 

"I'm a physical build meaning my body is much stronger than yours. Plus, I have my barrier skill, which helps block out some of the more dangerous things I can breathe in. It works wonders when I'm mining with master, and the air is filled with dust," I explain to Sandra while we're waiting for our third mixture of the day to heat up.

 

“Can’t the two of you be quieter? This is supposed to be one of my days off," master grumbles from his bench.

 

“Ignore him,” I tell Sandra.

 

“But we’re using his equipment,” Sandra looks around master’s clearing, clearly impressed with the setup we have.

 

"I've been using the forge to heat up my mixtures from the start. Master just likes to complain, that's all." I sneak a quick glance over my shoulder and see that master is secretly watching us work just like he does when I'm forging.

 

“If you say so,” Sandra hesitantly agrees. “Do you think this new wood will help?”

 

I don't answer her and instead, stare at the glass beaker sitting on a metal stand above the coals. "The internal mana structure is mixing near the bottom, but the top is remaining clumped together." It looks like this will be another dud; I sigh in disappointment.

 

"I still can't believe you can sense specific mana signatures like that," Sandra says, moving to prep a new solution for our next attempt.

 

“What do you see in the mixture?” I ask Sandra.

 

"I can see the mana moving faster because of the heat; along with that, the mixture is mostly earth and water mana, like most plants are, but that’s it.”

 

"That's pretty good," I offer her some encouragement. Sandra just pouts, knowing I'm saying that because I'm her friend. "Trust me; if you keep practicing with Mana Manipulation, Sense Mana will level up with it and vice versa."

 

“I know,” Sandra responds half heartily.

 

I should change the subject. “Did you see your brother off this morning?”

 

“Of course, I said goodbye to him on my way here.”

 

"I can't believe Nicolas volunteered to escort the crops to Drey. I could imagine Braddon going but not Nicolas." Markus and Ezekiel finally finished harvesting all the wortel two days ago. Nicolas, along with Ronald, and two other hunters, set off this morning to deliver our supplies to Drey.

 

“Braddon did offer to go, but Nicolas argued he would be a better fit should something go wrong,” Sandra tells me.

 

"They're just going for appearance's sake. As soon as they see Scholl's flag flying in the distance, they'll turn around and come back home," I remind her.

 

"You're right; I think Nicolas just wanted to get out of the village for a little bit. Father has been running brother ragged lately, having him organizing everything in the entire village."

 

“What about you?” I ask Sandra. “Is Camden still hounding you about your magic?”

 

“Not as much as he was,” she tells me. "Though he was impressed yesterday when I used earth magic to turn over the fields. What about you; what have you been up to? I'm guessing those spears and swords are new." Sandra motions over to the rack of weapons I've made over the last few days.

 

"Yeah, I'm starting to get the hang of this new metal I'm working with. I've made six spears and eight swords; it hasn't rained lately, so master and I agreed it was easier to build a rack to hold them for now."

 

"They look beautiful," Sandra remarks at the tannish-silver weapons. "Are you donating any of them to the village?"

 

I snort, trying to hold back my laughter. "No way, those are magic weapons; each one of those can be enchanted. You're the only other person in the village besides me who can use magic; weapons like that would be wasted here."

 

“You forgot about Anastasia,” Sandra reminds me.

 

“She doesn’t leave her hut unless it’s a real emergency. What would Anastasia need a magic sword for?”

 

"Good point," Sandra agrees. "Are you planning to enchant all of them yourself, then?"

 

“If we ever figure this recipe out,” I reach into the fire with a pair of tongs and remove the failed mixture. “For some reason, the mixture isn’t circulating heat properly. Parts of the solution heat up quicker than others and float near the top while others rise and fall like a normal liquid.”

 

"Do you think we need more heat?" Sandra asks for my opinion.

 

"No, I've already tried hotter coals. The mixture burns too easily. The wood we're using now provides just enough heat, but the mixture isn't reacting like it's supposed to."

 

“Do you think it would work better if we spread out the heat rather than turn it up?”

 

"What?" I ask, confused.

 

“We have the solution sitting above the fire. What if we build up the coals around it and heat the solution from each of the sides as well as the bottom? Maybe that would help even out the heat in the solution.”

 

"That's brilliant," I exclaim. I should've thought of that sooner! The same principle applies to my blacksmithing. You need to heat up the entire section you're working with, or you'll cause microfractures. "I'll fix the fire!"

 

“I’ll get the solution ready!”

 

The two of us scramble to get everything ready.

 

We both anxiously watch the alchemical solution as soon as I move it into the forge and cross our fingers praying for just a single success. The two of us don't say a word to one another while the solution is heating up.

 

I keep count in my head, measuring the exact time the solution is in the fire for my notes later.

 

After seven and a half minutes, the alchemical solution starts to change. The eathrosse and devil's poke absorb a part of the fire mana and start blending together.

 

“It’s working!” Sandra and I echo each other’s excitement.

 

“Wait! What do we do next?” Sandra asks me. We haven’t discussed the next step, but luckily, I already have some supplies readied on my desk.

 

“You see that brown pot on my desk?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Bring it over here with my smallest measuring spoon,” I instruct Sandra as I prepare to remove the mixture as soon as the ingredients finish fusing.

 

When the mixture is completed, it has turned a brighter shade of purple.

 

“What is this stuff?” Sandra asks me when she looks inside the pot she brought over.

 

"Crushed magicite," I tell her as I remove the glass container from the fire. "Step three said to add magicite to the mixture. You add the magicite one scoop at a time, and I'll keep an eye on its internal mana."

 

"Ok," Sandra carefully starts adding small amounts of magicite to our mixture. After she adds the second scoop, I see that the mixture isn't blending again. But this time, I'm prepared. I grab a glass stirring rod and slowly mix the mixture.

 

I'm already aware the instructions I was given leave 99% of the information out, so I have to guess the proper solutions to the problems I encounter.

 

When I tried stirring the previous mixture when it was in the fire, the extra motion actually caused it to burn for some reason; luckily, this time, stirring the mixture appears to be the right choice, and the magicite starts blending into the mixture.

 

The magicite Sandra is adding is charging the mana in the mixture, keeping the fire mana active. At this rate, we might make it to step four.

 

No sooner than that thought crosses my mind, everything falls apart.

 

“Stop,” I shout.

 

Sandra freezes, and we both watch our hard work burn itself up. I don't know if we added too much magicite or mixed it in too quickly, but the magicite caused the fire mana that fused with the previous mixture to go out of control. The solution burns and turns into black sludge at the bottom of the container.

 

I can’t help but let out a long sigh. The failures hurt much more after you’ve had a breakthrough.

 

“We were so close!” Sandra says, disappointed.

 

"At least we made it to step three," I console my friend by patting her on the shoulder and move to write down step 2 in my notes.

 

Step 2: The mixture must be heated from the bottom and sides evenly, using a fire around 600°F. The mixture starts binding after seven minutes and finishes after eleven.

 

I’m not sure if removing the mixture from the fire was the right choice, but that’s just one more thing we need to test later.

 

“I’ll get the next mixture ready,” excited, Sandra moves over to my workbench.

 

“Woah, wait a minute,” I stop her before she starts mixing the next test batch.

 

“What’s wrong?” Sandra asks me, confused as to why I’m stopping her.

 

“I think we’re done for the day,” I tell her.

 

“Why?”

 

“Chasing success is just as bad as continuing after a long string of failures. We’ve burned through a lot of materials already. We can try again in a few days,” I suggest to Sandra.

 

"The best idea I've heard all day," master buts in from his bench.

 

The two of us ignore Master's remark.

 

"Fine," Sandra reluctantly agrees. "If you're really sure you want to stop?" Sandra gives me one last pleading look to continue. It's no wonder she's a mage; Sandra has the drive to keep trying until she gets it right.

 

"Yeah," I repeat. "It's still technically my day off, and I should spend some time with my mom. She still has me helping her with Richard's marriage tassel."

 

“Then I can take this annoying thing off,” Sandra removes her face mask. “I’m sure Richard is happy you’re helping make his tassel." Sandra's compliment and smile combination are too bright for me, so I turn away before she can see my embarrassed face.

 

“Let’s clean up and head home together,” I suggest to Sandra.

 

"Alright," Sandra helps me straighten everything up and we both say goodbye to Master Del.

 

On the way home, I think about our last experiment. I'm surprised we managed to make progress on the engraving ink. This was our first time collaborating together, and it went better than I could've ever hoped for. If we continue with this kind of success, I might get my hands on some engraving ink before the month is over.

 

It's good to stay positive, but I don't let our success cloud my judgment. I have dozens of more weapons to make, along with a whole host of skills I need to practice with.

 

There is always something else to improve, and if I want to head to the deeper parts of the forest one day, I can't slow down now.

 

Tomorrow I’ll be back at it, working harder than ever.

 

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5,250 words.

 

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kosnik4

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