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I channel my inner Shaolin monk, switching from a monkey stance to a crane position. The forest is warming up as spring progresses, and you can feel the vibrance of life in the air.

 

Of course, I have no real idea if what I’m doing is anything related to actual monks, but practicing my sense of balance in weird positions is a staple for my training. I set aside today to practice all my mana skills, focusing heavily on my mana roots. And this time, I can train in the woods without being critiqued by an audience.

 

Over the past few days, keeping my mana roots deployed has almost become second nature to me, and recently I’ve experimented with incorporating a similar technique into my hands.

 

When I deploy my mana roots through my feet, it anchors me to the ground and improves my balance. Yesterday, I tried forming mana roots from the palms of my hands for fun while I was swinging my blacksmithing hammer. It was more difficult than burrowing into the soft forest floor, but eventually, I managed to inject my mana roots into the handle of my hammer.

 

This discovery not only guarantees I won't lose hold of my weapons in the future, but the mana roots make it incredibly easy to inject my mana into whatever I’m holding directly. When I finally figure out how to make engraving ink and enchant my weapons, I’ll be able to activate them with virtually no mana loss in the transfer.

 

I've always had to use Inject Mana to force my mana into whatever material I wanted, wasting a portion of mana overcoming a material's magic resistance. Keeping my mana roots embedded in my weapon, I can add or reabsorb my mana without overcoming that barrier.

 

If I still had my katana, I would’ve been able to set it ablaze in an instant with very little mana.

 

However, though my new mana ability continues to grow, I haven't gotten a new skill yet. And I'm starting to think it's because I can only disperse my mana roots a few inches from my body. I need to figure out how I can expand the distance I can control my mana around my body.

 

We're two weeks into the thirteenth month of the year, meaning I'm almost halfway to my new year's deadline. When it comes to crafting, I'm ahead of schedule, but I feel my other skills are starting to take a hit, especially my mana skills.

 

I thought the kaglese weapons would take up more of my time, but after all the prep work master and I went through, I’ve been busting out kaglese alloy weapons left and right.

 

It’s gotten to the point I’ve started supplementing my forging with making regular steel spears for the village. Brother placed an order for some large steel nails for the armory, and a few villagers asked for some more mundane items like pots and pans, but forging cast iron utensils only takes me twenty minutes now. With my skills, stats, and experience working with magic alloys, forming non-magic items is almost too easy for me now.

 

Master is happy because I dialed back the amount of time I’m spending forging to only three days with him. I then take two days of rest, one of which I spend practicing my other skills.

 

Keeping my left foot on the ground, I lean forward while my right foot is stretched out behind me. Maintaining my funky yoga pose, I pull up my status page.

 

LV: 73 Experience: 401,841/ 956,780

Health: 2,430/2,430

Stamina 1,431.66/1,650

Mana: 827.42/1,020

Vitality: 243.00

Endurance: 100.03

Strength: 152.01

Dexterity: 150.02

Senses: 62.41

Mind: 65.23

Magic: 102.81

Clarity: 78.79

Status Points: 0

Skills:

Tier 1:

Meditation (LV78), Running (LV77), Blacksmithing (LV72), Hammer Skills (LV59), Axe Skills (LV58), Cleaning (LV53), Chanting (LV50), Mining (LV50), Drawing (LV46), Trading (LV45), Cooking (LV41), Sword Skills (LV34), Dagger Skills (LV33), Acting (LV32), Wood Carving (LV31), Sewing (LV29), Alchemy (LV7), Pugilist Skills (LV7), Spear Skills (LV2)

Tier 2:

Sense Mana (LV79), Double Step (LV62), Charm (LV50), Measurement (LV47), Hammer Arts (LV43), Axe Arts (LV38), Writing (LV32), Intimidating Shout (LV31), Mathematics (LV30), Steady Hands (LV22), Increase Price (LV21), Lower Price (LV20), Sword Arts (LV15), Dagger Arts (LV13), Gourmet (LV7), Marching (LV5), Shout of Valor (LV3),

Tier 3:

Expel Mana (LV62), Mana Manipulation (LV60), Precise Strike (LV40), Double Strike (LV40), Weighted Strike (LV40), Flash Step (LV24), Contract (LV7)

Tier 4:

Mana Skin (LV55), Mental Resistance (LV54), Inject Mana (LV53), Extract Mana (LV34), Magic Blacksmithing (LV28), Empowered Spell (LV12), Air Walk (LV9)

Tier 5:

Sense Soul (LV40), Soul Manipulation (LV8)

Tier 6:

Soul Devourer (LV2)

 

Increased Skill Levels

Running (LV77) 3,850exp

Blacksmithing (LV71-72) 7,150exp

Hammer Skills (LV59) 2,950exp

Axe Skills (LV58) 2,900exp

Mining (LV49-50) 4,950exp

Cooking (LV41) 2,050exp

Dagger Skills (LV32-33) 3,250exp

Sword Skills (LV32-34) 4,950exp

Sewing (LV27-29) 4,200exp

Pugilist Skills (LV5-7) 900exp

Alchemy (LV3-7) 1,250exp

Double Step (LV62) 6,200exp

Measurement (LV47) 4,700exp

Hammer Arts (LV43) 4,300exp

Axe Arts (LV37-38) 7,500exp

Steady Hands (LV19-22) 8,200exp

Dagger Arts (LV13) 1,300exp

Sword Arts (LV15) 1,500exp

Weighted Strike (LV39-40) 11,850exp

Flash Step (LV23-24) 7,050exp

Mana Skin (LV55) 13,750

Mental Resistance (LV54) 13,500exp

Inject Mana (LV53) 13,250exp

Extract Mana (LV33-34) 16,750exp

Magic Blacksmithing (LV27-28) 13,750exp

Air Walk (LV7-9) 6,000exp

Sense Soul (LV40) 20,000exp

Soul Manipulation (LV7-8) 7,500exp

 

Skill Experience: 194,600exp

Crafting Experience: 124,573exp

Fighting Experience: 2,119exp

 

Total-experience Gained: 321,292exp

 

It's been a little over a month since I last examined my status page, and I've practiced a lot since I completed my four personal weapons. The physical and magic skills I use for blacksmithing went up the most, but sparring with dad and Camden helped me to level my weapon skills as well. I run every day with mom before practicing my movement skills and periodically help her around the house.

 

Thanks to all my hard work, Mining, Weighted Strike, and Sense Soul all joined my ever-growing list of skills stuck at their tests. Whether I’m working during the day or practicing my soul skills at night, I haven’t stopped trying to improve myself.

 

The experience I gain from leveling my skills plays the most significant part in my growth, but it's becoming harder and harder to level them. The higher the level the skill is, the more time I need to devote to leveling it, and it's become more apparent that some skills won't level further without their lower-tier counterparts.

 

For example, my tier 4 mana skills are leveling slower as they get closer to matching Mana Manipulation’s level. Trying to get past the bottleneck for Sense Soul was so overwhelmingly mentally taxing, I've put off trying again until Mental Resistance reaches level 60.

 

The good news is, despite my skills becoming harder to level, my crafting experience is slowly gaining ground.

 

Since I last checked my status page, I’ve crafted my armor, eighteen kaglese spears, eighteen kaglese swords, ten steel spears for the village, five steel bucklers for the village, and a few other miscellaneous objects people asked for.

 

If I keep up this pace, I’ll reach level 74 before the new year.

 

But to do that, I need to start breaking past some of these bottlenecks I’m encountering, and Mana Manipulation is the most important one.

 

Like my experiments with engraving ink, I’ve been testing ways to break past level 60 in Mana Manipulation. Sandra has already complimented me on my freakish internal mana manipulation and agrees that it’s my outer mana manipulation that is most likely is the culprit for my bottleneck. I think Sandra has guessed some of my skill levels, but she hasn’t outright asked me for confirmation.

 

During my last break, Sandra and I figured out the third step to make engraving ink, so I want to try and keep the success going today.

 

I focus on the mana roots extending from my left foot.

 

The only reason I can train as much as I have is that the village has been relatively quiet the last month. Many people were expecting the next disaster to fall from the sky, but nothing has happened to our village as of late. There was the fear that Scholl would march into our village and pillage everything for a little while, but that never happened.

 

Sandra’s brother Nicolas made it back to the village without incident after he confirmed Scholl’s flag was flying over Drey’s walls just as we thought it was. And a few days after he returned, the village received an official letter from the new rulers of Drey.

 

The message stated how we now fall under Scholl’s rule and that a representative will eventually arrive at each village. The letter also stated that all crops would be worth an extra 10% to the village's tax credit.

 

News travels fast through our village, and Camden called for another village meeting the next day. He explained how a Scholl representative will eventually arrive at our village and how we now fall under their domain. A few people were afraid Scholl might try something, but Camden reassured everybody that Scholl has no reason to attack a small village like us.

 

Just in case, though, the hunters are keeping an eye on the road every day. But there's been no sign of anyone approaching the village. For every day that passes, the village seems more peaceful as people return to their everyday lives.

 

The next round of crops was planted, brother was placed in charge of constructing the new armory with help from his old master; things are getting back to what they were before the goblin horde arrived. You could even argue things are better now that people have gained levels and we have a mage in the village.

 

The hunters have started to find larger game again, meaning our food shortage is no longer a significant issue. We still need to ration for the next few months, but people are no longer afraid they might starve.

 

With no order deadlines in sight and no more monsters threatening our village for the moment, I can practice without worry for a change.

 

I stay balancing on my left leg and split my attention between my immediate surroundings and my extended mana roots. My practicing wouldn’t be practical if I can’t use my skill while keeping an eye out for trouble.

 

Tracing the thousands of small roots extending from my foot, I try to push them past four inches. The roots hold their form as they extend to five inches, but I can feel my control on my mana slipping the farther I extend them. When the roots reach six inches, they start disintegrating into the ambient mana.

 

I pull back my mana to the four-inch mark, as not to needlessly waste it. Though the brief test cost me nearly 50 mana, I was able to see how my mana roots react outside my control. The ever-shifting mana around me bombards my roots and tears them apart like tissue paper.

 

The more I learn about mana, the more I can relate it to energy and the movement of molecules. I may only have a high schooler's knowledge on the subject, but I know different states of matter have molecules that move at different speeds. Solid objects like the ground I'm standing on have very slow-moving molecules that are practically still. Earth mana mirrors those properties and shifts the slowest of all mana types. Though even with earth mana being the slowest moving, it still tore through my mana roots without much trouble after they extended out of my normal range.

 

I hold out my hand and start extending mana roots from it. As long as the roots are at least four inches from my body, I can use my control over the mana to resist the tide of ambient mana around me. But as soon as the roots extend further than four inches from my hand, they start to disintegrate immediately.

 

Air is a gas, and its molecules move extremely fast. The air mana sliced through my mana roots so quickly I couldn’t observe the phenomenon with my eyes.

 

I would need to move over to the stream to test how my roots would react with water, but I imagine the result would fall in between my two tests. As long as I'm forcing my mana roots into a solid object like the ground or the handle of my weapon, I can extend them slightly more than otherwise.

 

Treating my mana like tree roots was a stroke of genius, but if I can’t control my mana at further distances, then this is the most I can do with them.

 

“I wonder if trees also have this problem?” I sigh to myself.

 

I lower my right foot back to the ground and stand up straight. Maybe I should reexamine my source material?

 

Walking over to the closest tree, I put my hand up against the bark and use Sense Mana to look at its internal structure. Mana circulates through the tree's thick trunk, up through its branches, and travels down into its roots.

 

When I focus on the tree's roots, I'm astounded by the complex web of limbs snaking throughout the forest floor. I quickly notice the tree's roots, and my mana roots aren't the same; when I deploy my mana roots, its hundreds of individual strands of mana, while the tree's roots resemble its canopy in design.

 

The tree's trunk splits into five large roots, which split into smaller roots, which then again split into countless other thread sized roots. Everything branches off from the trunk, only getting smaller as the roots travel further away from the tree.

 

Instead of using many small mana threads, I should combine them into one strong root that can withstand the mana I'm burrowing into.

 

I withdraw my deployed mana roots and focus solely on the heels of my feet. Weaving my mana together, I slowly extend a thick tendril of mana into the ground from my heel. As the large root of mana tunnels into the forest floor, smaller offshoots spring out the root's sides to cover more ground.

 

Four inches.

 

Five inches.

 

A smile crosses my lips when the root doesn’t fall apart as it passes the six inches mark.

 

Seven.

 

Eight.

 

At nine inches, my roots become too unstable to continue. That doesn't matter, though, because I've figured out how to move mana farther away from my body than I usually would be able to.

 

I sense a rush of experience expanding in my soul, meaning Mana Manipulation leveled up. Focusing on the part of my soul that represents my skill, I pull up a quick notification.

 

Mana Manipulation (LV61) 0.54%

As if that wasn’t enough good news, I sense that I finally got my mana roots skill.

 

Magic Threads (LV1) 94%

 

I expected the name to have to do with trees or roots... but thread? I weaved different strands of mana together to accomplish the skill; maybe that's where the name came from?

 

Oh, well. It doesn't matter what the skill is called; now that it's engraved in my soul, using it will only grow easier. And the skill looks like it's already about to hit level two. That's incredible for another tier 4 skill.

 

I want to start practicing with my new skill, but I have to deal with my admirer first.

 

“You can come out now,” I say to a tree twenty feet in front of me.

 

Materializing out of the shadow of the tree stands a man I've never met before. He's about five foot ten, moderately built, with slicked-back brown hair. His green eyes study me just like I'm doing to him. His armor is splotched brown, blending in with his surroundings. I also don’t miss the fact that his left hand is resting on top of the twin swords at his side.

 

I watch his every move, ready to draw my own sword if he so much as twitches.

 

“Four said I wouldn’t be able to sneak up on you.” The man’s voice is smooth and soft but lacks any emotion behind his words.

 

“I don’t know who you’re talking about,” I warily tell the man.

 

The intruder frowns for a second before his neutral expression returns. "I believe you know him as Reel; that's the name he was assigned for his current assignment."

 

“You work for Giovanni then?” I raise a questioning eyebrow.

 

“I do,” he curtly replies. “You can call me Two.”

 

“Ok, prove it,” I demand.

 

“What?” I hear just a tinge of surprise in his voice.

 

"Anyone can say they work for Giovanni. How do I know Mr. Grey didn't send you?"

 

"That is a fair point. Reel told me if you questioned me, I should say, I'm learning to take a compliment. I don't know what that means, but I'm guessing that proves who I am."

 

I can’t help but chuckle hearing our inside joke in such a monotone voice. “Yeah, that works for me. But you know, you could’ve just come out when you arrived instead of watching me for so long.”

 

"You noticed when I arrived?" The man known as Two looks briefly surprised again before hiding his expression behind a mask of neutrality.

 

"You don't have the same magic items as Reel does; it was easy to sense you approaching," I smugly grin at Reel's assassin buddy.

 

“I’m more direct than Reel,” Two flatly tells me.

 

“I can see that. I take it you brought a message from your boss then.”

 

Two reaches into his side pocket and pulls out a small metal disk-shaped device inscribed with the most complex enchantment I've ever seen. "Here," he tosses me the magic item, keeping out of both mine and his sword ranges.

 

Normally I'd be hesitant to grab an unknown magic item, but I can see it isn't activated. I snatch it out of the air without taking my eyes off of Two. "What is it?" I ask.

 

“Communicator,” Two tells me. “You’ll need to move closer to Blaiton before you can use it,” Two nods in the direction I would need to go before turning around and disappearing into the woods without a word.

 

I keep track of him until he moves out of Sense Mana's range. "And here I thought Reel was hard to deal with," I chuckle at my own joke.

 

I guess I should take a walk and talk to Giovanni for the first time. Gathering up my gear, I head in the direction Two indicated. There's no need to rush, so I start examining the incredible magic tool I was given. I hope Giovanni doesn't want this back because there's no way I'm giving this gem up.

 

**********

 

Master Pacore the Deathless’ Point of View:

 

“Why did you have to drag me along with you?” Young Jason complains as we make our way down a dirt trail.

 

"I needed someone who knows the area," I laugh at his distress.

 

"I only know the names of the villages that I’ve briefly seen on a map; I've never left Drey before!" Jason remarks, upset I dragged him along with me and my small platoon. We're visiting the more remote villages now that my replacements have settled in.

 

"The fresh air will do you some good," I tell the young man. "Don't you agree, General Pitz," I turn and ask my captive who's riding our only jelen. The beast is secured to a small cart with our supplies and is always guided by one of my men, so she can't take off with it. If I didn't let her ride the beast, it would take us too long to march between villages.

 

"You smell worse than the city," she bites back. Young Jason snickers at her comment, and I catch a few of my men trying to hide their smiles, afraid I'd do something should I notice them.

 

I ignore everyone and ask Jason, "which village are we heading to next?"

 

Young Jason flicks through a stack of papers he brought with him before answering me. "The closest village is Iron Wood Village. We should be there soon."

 

“Strong name,” I remark.

 

"The village was named after the iron wood trees the village was built around. The trees' bark is said to be as strong as iron armor," Jason gives me a quick background of the village.

 

“I would love to see such amazing trees. Such plants are rare in Scholl.”

 

“Sorry, but all the iron wood trees were cut down a long time ago,” Jason quickly dashes my hopes.

 

“Then they should change the name of the village,” I grouchily reply. “How many more villages are in the forest?”

 

"I'm not sure," Young Jason honestly replies. "All the documents related to the local villages were taken by the previous city lord. The courier guild helped me figure out a few I missed, but even they aren't sure of all the villages in the area. In the end, they had to send out their birds to visit every village instead of specifically targeting each one. Hopefully, Lord Bullok and the others will figure something out before we return."

 

“Why do you use his title and not mine?” I playfully sneer at young Jason.

 

“Because he demands I use his title,” Jason looks at me like the answer was obvious.

 

Kellor Bullok is the man his majesty sent to handle the cities I conquer. I thought he would come by himself, but Bullok arrived with three other minor nobles selected to run the various cities in the area. But for now, the four men are working together to get Drey up and running, giving me some much-needed free time to inspect the surrounding villages before the rest of my army joins me.

 

My students and Tellis successfully stalled Olebert’s forces around Teeburn, and more soldiers are moving in to reinforce both of us. I have maybe another week and a half before I need to set out to take Blaiton, so leisurely traveling around the countryside counts as a sort of vacation.

 

I verbally spar with Jason and General Pitz until we reach Iron Wood Village.

 

A single lookout spotted us approaching before running off to warn his village. The village responds like every other we've visited.

 

By the time we march into the village proper, everyone is hiding in their houses while a nervous village head moves to greet us.

 

This village head looks ready to retire and visibly ages as he walks over to us. "Greeting lords and ladies of Scholl, welcome to Iron Wood Village." It's unbearable listening to this man stutter out his greeting. The entourage that's supposed to be guarding him has subtly taken a step back, leaving him on his own.

 

I know I shouldn’t expect much after how easily I took Teeburn and Drey, but this is just sad to watch. Let’s hurry things along. “Is there a place we can comfortably talk?”

 

The man flinches at the mere sound of my voice before franticly nodding his head. "Of course, great lords. I'll take all of you to my meager house."

 

“My men will stay here,” I inform him.

 

“Yes, of course,” the frightened man agrees with whatever I say.

 

I give General Pitz my hand and help her down from the jelen. She and Jason have attended each of my meetings for different reasons. Young Jason takes notes to help Lord Bullok when we return, and I bring General Pitz with me so she can tell Olebert how well we're treating everyone when she's finally ransomed back to them.

 

Walking through the village, I'm impressed with how many farkas they have hanging up for processing. Despite the village headman’s weak appearance, there must be a few decent hunters around with a haul like that.

 

The village head leads us to his house, it isn't as big as some of the ones I've recently seen, but it isn't the smallest either.

 

We're led inside and brought to his kitchen. "I'm sorry, but I don't have anything nicer for you. Please don't…"

 

I silence the man with a wave of my hand. "It's fine; we're not expecting a grand welcome. Did you receive our message a few weeks ago?"

 

"Yes, my lord," the headman answers, keeping his head bowed submissively.

 

“That’s good. Our visit is merely to confirm the legitimacy of the letter and to let you know Scholl is not going to be taking over your village or replacing you.”

 

“Truly?” The headman asks, surprised.

 

“Yes, I’m here to explain that Scholl is looking to set up many farms in the area. Our goal is to produce as much food as possible. Any contribution your village makes will be rewarded with tax credits,” I explain to the man. “Jason, handle the rest?”

 

Young Jason nods and starts explaining the gritty details to the headman. While he explains that the village's tax won't be raised, I glance at General Pitz. As Young Jason lays out better terms for the headman, she watches the headman's fear turn into joy hearing his village’s taxes were essentially being lowered not raised.

 

This isn't the first village that has become happy hearing our plans for the future. Many local villages have been left to themselves for far too long, expected to make large tax payments compared to their relative size. It must hurt the general to see how quickly her people come over to our side with relatively little changes.

 

“Does that sound good to you?” I ask the headman after young Jason finishes his explanation.

 

“It does,” the headman bows again, this time in appreciation. “Iron Tree Village thanks our benevolent rulers. May Scholl rule forever.”

 

And like that, another village pledges fealty to Scholl, unaware one of Olebert's top generals is watching the whole spectacle.

 

“Would the lords and lady wish to stay in the village?” The headman offers us lodgings.

 

"We thank you for the offer, but we have more villages to visit," I politely turn him down. My tent would be much nicer than any accommodations he could offer us.

 

The headman walks us to his front door, spouting needless platitudes.

 

As we walk past the hanging farkas again, I stop and ask, “I’ve noticed other villages with similar success hunting. Are your hunters that high-leveled?”

 

“Oh no, my lord. We’ve just been lucky this last half-year. A lot of animals fled the deeper parts of the forest.”

 

That sounds interesting. “Why is that?” I ask.

 

“I heard that a goblin horde was spotted around Spotted Creek Village before winter arrived, my lord,” the headman explains to me.

 

“Is this true?” I turn and ask Jason. Goblin hordes are disasters for small villages; surely, he must have heard about it.

 

While Jason is thinking, out of the corner of my eye, I notice General Pitz also looks shocked to hear this news.

 

“I vaguely remember hearing something about it a while ago,” Jason admits. “But I think the lord said it was taken care of.”

 

"It was," the headman tells us. "Spotted Creek killed the vermin and, in doing so, released invisible magic beasts into the forest."

 

“They defeated a goblin horde? And invisible magic beasts?” I press the headman for more information.

 

“Sure did,” he reassures me. “They sent word to all the villages bordering the forest to warn us about them, giant spiders they said.”

 

“Is Spotted Creek Village on our list?” I ask Jason. Invisible spiders sound like a good way to kill some of my boredom, and a great way to earn some goodwill from the surrounding villages.

 

“I don’t believe so,” he mumbles as he flips through his papers. “Nope, not on our list.”

 

“Where is this village?” I question the headman.

 

"It's the deepest village in the forest. If you follow the forest's edge east, you'll come to the trail that leads to it. It's about a five-day journey, that is, if it's still standing." The headman informs us.

 

A village that fought off a goblin horde and invisible magic beasts! It may take up the rest of my time, but I have to see this.

 

“I think we have our next destination,” I grin at Jason.

 

"He said there were invisible spiders!" Jason whines.

 

“Giant invisible spiders,” the headman clarifies.

 

“Giant invisible spiders,” Jason whimpers.

 

“All the more reason for us to go!” I happily proclaim.

 

While Jason tries to talk me out of going, I sneak glances at General Pitz. She's trying to hide it, but she looks more concerned now that I've said I wanted to visit the village. What is she trying to hide?

 

I hold up a hand, cutting of young Jason complaining about us all being eaten. "We're going, and that's final."

 

Jason's shoulders slump in defeat, but I'm excited. What does Spotted Creek Village have in store for me?

 

**********

 

Aaliyah’s Point of View:

 

While walking through the forest, I’ve been regularly pumping a bit of my mana into the communication device, waiting for it to connect.

 

Once I'm about an hour away from the village, the enchantment fully lights up, and a few seconds later, a man's voice echoes out of the magic device. "Is this Aaliyah of Spotted Creek village?"

 

“That depends,” I cockily respond. “Is this Giovanni I’m speaking to?”

 

I hear the familiar laughter of Reel in the background. "Yes, I'm Giovanni. It's a pleasure to speak with you finally."

 

"Likewise," I reply. "I hear Reel laughing in the background; does that mean everyone made it back, ok?"

 

“Everyone is fine,” Reel answers before Giovanni can say anything.

 

“Don’t interrupt!” A third voice berates Reel.

 

“Does that answer your question?” Giovanni asks me.

 

"It does; I'm happy to hear they made it back safe. But I'm guessing you didn't send mister emotion to deliver this fancy magic tool for that.”

 

“Mister emotion, Two!” Reel sounds like he’s having trouble breathing at this point.

 

Giovanni ignores his laughing subordinate. "I wish that were the case, but I'm afraid we have much bigger things to discuss. How are you planning to deal with Grey?"

 

"I haven't decided yet," I truthfully answer. "I don't necessarily need to break my contract with him immediately. I'm assuming he plans to use it against me when I try asking about Kervin and why he's not running the deliveries any longer."

 

"So, you don't plan on cutting ties with him when he comes to pick up the goods you're making?" Giovanni doesn't sound mad after hearing my plan; he sounds more like he's considering all his options.

 

"I was more curious what you're doing," I say into the magic tool. "I was expecting to hear you tell me that you already had Grey killed by this point."

 

“If it was that easy, I’d already have done it,” Giovanni matter-of-factly tells me. “Grey is cunning enough to have made plans in case of his death.”

 

“Does that really matter?” I curiously ask.

 

“It does. Grey has definitely signed a contract leaving everything he has to someone he trusts. Contracts like that apply to all his deals, including contracts he's signed. It's a common method merchants use to keep themselves from being targeted by assassins. Whoever takes over your contract can use it against you. The same applies for me; it will take time before I can even consider having him killed."

 

Well, shit, why does everything always have to be so complicated? "Why don't you tell me when you're ready to move?" I suggest to Giovanni. "If we time it right, I can cancel my contract as soon as you move to confront him. If Grey survives the backlash, you can have Reel stab him a few times for good measure."

 

Reel chokes from laughing so hard.

 

"You think the backlash will kill him?" Giovanni questions me over Reel's laughter.

 

"Who knows?" I reply. "A girl can hope, though."

 

“I’m surprised by your willingness to have Grey killed,” Giovanni remarks.

 

“He took advantage of my ignorance and screwed me over. I don’t take kindly to that,” I growl into the communication device. “Keep that in mind.”

 

The other end goes silent for a moment.

 

"I will," Giovanni acknowledges my thinly veiled threat.

 

“Good, because I have no problem helping you make a lot of money. I just want our dealings to be straight."

 

"That's good to hear," I can almost imagine the faceless man on the other end of my connection smiling. "How about you contact me in two weeks or if something should come up."

 

“I can do that,” I agree with his plan.

 

“And Miss Aaliyah.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

"I'd appreciate it if you keep that communicator secret and secure. The nobility covets magic devices as rare as the one in your hand, no matter which kingdom they hail from."

 

“So, you’re telling me these would fetch a fortune if I can make more,” I grin into the magic tool.

 

"You could!?" Giovanni begins to shout before catching himself. "Yes, if you can make more, they would be worth a lot of money," he tells me in a calm voice, trying to hide his excitement.

 

“I’ll try.”

 

“Good,” Giovanni coughs to clear his throat. “This was more productive than I thought. I’ll be waiting for your call.”

 

“Treat Kervin nice,” I add in before I remove my mana from the communication device. "I still want him to be my go-between once everything is cleared up."

 

“That was always a given,” Giovanni reassures me.

 

"Good, I'll contact you later." After I say that, I reabsorb my mana from the magic tool and watch the enchantment dim. I know it was a subtle power move, but I wanted to be the one to hang up first.

 

Twirling around, I start walking back to my village. I leveled my skills today and got my hands on this beauty; I throw the magic tool up in the air and catch it.

 

"Today was a better day than I could've hoped for." I whistle Country Road all the way home, excited for the future.

 

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A note from kosnik4

5,650 words.

 

Slightly longer than usual, I hope you enjoyed it.


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kosnik4

Bio: Just love a good story.

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