"You know your stitches should be one continuous line, right? They shouldn't zig-zag all over the place like that," Sandra makes fun of my needlework.


“It gives it character,” I point out.


“That’s a whole lot of character,” she jokes, and I can’t help but laugh along with her. “Don’t you think it’s time to make a new one?”


"You may be right," I agree, looking over my breastplate. Poor thing only made it a few months too.


It’s been three weeks since I started my training sessions with Tabitha, and this is the fourth time I’ve had to fix it. My beautiful leather studded kaglese breastplate looks nothing like it did when I first made it. The leather is more seams than leather at this point, and the kaglese plates are smaller than when I originally made them from all the reforging.


The alloy has also lost a bit of its mana conductivity. I think microscopic amounts of mithril are being eroded when I reforge the metal. And if that's true, I'll have to keep an eye out to see if the mithril fragments bind with my tools and mess up their mana structures.


It might seem like a good idea to mix some mithril into my anvil and hammer, but mithril is a soft metal and the last thing I would want mixed in with my tools.


I've discussed this problem with Master Del, and unfortunately, he has no ideas on how to remedy the situation. Master rarely got to work with magic metals, let alone find a situation where he needed to recycle them.


Depending on how intense our sparring sessions are, I can usually get away with just heating the plates and hammering the cuts out, but not all the time. I had to remelt the plates and reforge them from scratch after that fateful first sparring session and again the following week. At least Tabitha limits her attacks to my chest piece, or else I'd have to reforge all my armor.


I'm sure my breastplate could be made to look decent again, but that would require me asking my mother for help, and I'm still downplaying my sparring sessions with Tabitha to my parents.


Soon I’ll need to experiment by adding more mithril to the plates in hopes of restoring their previous magic conductivity. If I can’t, I might have to just deal with the weaker armor seeing how I’m out of kaglese.


I’ve used up my whole supply, and all that remains is what I have set aside for the arrows I still need to make. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been busy and crafted another nine spears and ten swords, giving me an even forty of each to sell after the new year. In fact, I finished my kaglese weapons two weeks ago and have been focusing on the village's gear since then.


I added another twelve bucklers to the village’s armory and a whopping forty-eight helmets. Now the village has twenty small shields, sixty helmets, and over a hundred spears. Should something happen to the village in the future, I'm much more confident everyone could protect themselves. That is, as long as it's an everyday threat like goblins or farkas.


Casting a glance over towards master on his bench, I make eye contact with the woman in armor sitting across from him. Tabitha's blank face lights up for a moment before pouting in disappointment when I shake my head no and look away.


“Go somewhere else! It isn’t one of your days to spar with her,” I hear master growl in frustration while he pretends to be asleep.


“Then why don’t we go another round?” Tabitha excitingly suggests to Master.


"Never again," Del huffs and rolls on his side, facing away from Tabitha. "All these people in my clearing!"


“Come on,” Tabitha leans closer to a grumpy Del. “Just a quick match. I’ll even go easy on you this time.”


"Children these days, no respect for their elders," Master continues to grumble and ignore Tabitha.


“Doesn’t she want to fight you because she respects you?” Sandra points out to Del.


Seeing an excellent time to butt in, I add the icing on the cake. "You know Sandra's right."


Del sits up with flames in his eyes. “Now the two of you are against me! Where’s your loyalty gone?!”


Sandra and I start laughing in response to Del’s reaction. This isn’t the first time he's gotten mad like this. Tabitha started showing up in the clearing on the days we weren't scheduled to train, and now she's dug herself in like a tick.


Early on, Master Del took on Tabitha's offer to spar with one another, hoping to get her to leave, but his plan backfired horribly. The fight was both fantastic and boring at the same time. Tabitha tried blocking master with her shield much as she did with me during our initial clash, only master's 420 points of Strength weren't so easily deflected, and master sent Tabitha flying.


By that point, I had already fought Tabitha twice, and I'll admit I took some pleasure in seeing the armor-clad woman finally take a decent hit. Unfortunately, I only got to see it once. After taking Master’s initial blow, Tabitha made sure to dance around his following attacks, choosing to avoid his strikes altogether and delivering swift counterattacks until Master had to throw in the towel. Master has plenty of Dexterity as I do, but also, like me, he had virtually no fighting experience against a trained opponent.


Since master's loss to Tabitha, she's proposed several rematches, all of which master has declined. But like a stubborn mule, Tabitha continues to ask him, hoping he’ll eventually say yes.


But other than asking Master Del and me to fight her, Tabitha has been a surprisingly good house guest. She's quiet 90% of the time and doesn't interfere in our work unless we give her our attention. Every so often, Tabitha comments that I should spend more time practicing my combat skills, but that doesn't bother me anymore. My family comes first, then blacksmithing, then spending time with Sandra, and all the extra time I can spare goes to Tabitha and her crazy dance lessons.


That’s why I’ve made sure to keep my two days off with my family intact and just cram the other five days with everything I need to do. Two days of rest, two days of blacksmithing, two days of sparring, and one day to research engraving ink. I’ve been running myself ragged, and if it wasn't for everyone helping me, I might have snapped.


For the last three weeks, every morning has started the same. I get up and do my usual run with Mom, only now we spend some time dancing afterward. Mom was happy to pick up another new skill even if she’ll probably never need it, but hey, who doesn't love more experience points? And unlike my sessions with Tabitha, dancing with Mom is much more fun and relaxing.


Both of us don't have our skills at that high of a level yet, so we don't do anything crazy, but it sure is fun to dance with someone not trying to trip you every second. And on rare occasions, I catch dad before he goes to work, and I get the chance to dance with someone taller than me for a change.


I was skeptical whether or not practicing Dancing would really help me with Tabitha’s sparring sessions, but I have to admit, I sure was happy when I started noticing small changes in my overall footwork. My Dancing sessions with Tabitha now last twice as long and see me falling on my ass a lot less. Tabitha even gives me the odd praise here and there, complimenting my rate of improvement.


And my footwork isn’t the only thing that’s seen improvement either. Tabitha has made me leave all my other weapons at home and has demanded I only carry my war hammer with me. I’m still not able to hit her, but since Tabitha had me focus on a single weapon, I’ve noticed a slight improvement in my blacksmithing.


“Ready to help me?” Sandra snarkily asks me behind her cloth mask.


“Yeah, yeah, I’m done,” I tell her, setting my freshly mended breastplate off to the side.


“Today's supposed to be our day to work on the engraving ink together. Not me doing all the work while you badly sew off to the side," she snaps.


“Harsh,” I reel back, acting like I’m offended.


“Sorry, mood swing,” Sandra quickly apologies, rubbing her stomach affectionately.


Sandra is almost into her second trimester now, and her Vitality glow is almost blinding. Her loose clothing hides her barely protruding baby bump, but that doesn't stop Sandra’s and my mom from demanding she shows them her progress every time they see her. Soon-to-be grandparents are scary.


“It’s fine,” I give Sandra a reassuring smile. I'm already used to Sandra joking with me one minute and trying to tear my head off the next. At this point, I just find it funny and laugh it off. Though sometimes I get the feeling she’s angry at me for other reasons, but for the life of me, I can’t think of a reason she would be and chalk it up to my imagination.


"Thanks, I'll get the next test batch going while you start the fire," Sandra's mood switches to happy again, and she divvy's out the tasks like she's the one in charge.


“Sure,” I smile to myself as I get the forge going. Sandra’s really taken to researching engraving ink. It’s gotten to the point she had me construct a small stove off to the side so she can practice making engraving ink while I’m forging. Sandra has a passion for all things magic and has already convinced her father to purchase the materials needed for Master Del to create her own engraving pen when trade resumes in a month or so.


A very hormonal Sandra hounded poor Master until he agreed to make her a pen as he did for me. I hope Master doesn't find out I'm the one who told Sandra she needed to ask him because I was unfamiliar with the process. It isn't because I was lazy or anything like that; it's just that I'm pretty busy, and I'm not sure if I'll still be around by the time Sandra gets the materials she needs. That's undoubtedly why I did it and certainly not because it was funny to watch Sandra hound master until he reluctantly caved in, certainly not.


I hold in my laughter as I build up the fire we need.


I bet most of Sandra's excitement comes from the fact a contract doesn't restrict everything we're learning about engraving ink. It would probably take over a decade for Sandra and Richard to save up enough coin to buy herself out of her master's restraining contract. Still, if she can learn to enchant items alongside me, that time will be drastically reduced.


Her crazy amount of motivation is the driving force behind our success. Sandra thinks we're close to figuring out the fourth step, and after we succeed, we'll only have the fifth one left.


I glance over at Sandra, who's preparing the next batch of engraving ink. Her smile is hidden behind her mask, but you can tell how excited she is by looking at the fire in her eyes.


As Sandra’s eyes reflect the growing flame in the forge, I decide I should take this time to check my status page. I’ve been so busy as of late, I haven’t taken the time to brows over my recent gains.


LV: 73 Experience: 890,386/ 956,780

Health: 2,430/2,430

Stamina 1,561.71/1,650

Mana: 951.72/1,020

Vitality: 243.00

Endurance: 100.06

Strength: 152.04

Dexterity: 150.05

Senses: 62.48

Mind: 65.33

Magic: 102.90

Clarity: 78.89

Status Points: 0


Tier 1:

Meditation (LV79), Running (LV78), Blacksmithing (LV73), Hammer Skills (LV63), Axe Skills (LV60), Cleaning (LV53), Chanting (LV50), Mining (LV50), Drawing (LV46), Trading (LV45), Cooking (LV41), Sword Skills (LV40), Dagger Skills (LV34), Acting (LV33), Wood Carving (LV31), Sewing (LV31), Dancing (LV13), Alchemy (LV11), Pugilist Skills (LV8), Spear Skills (LV2)

Tier 2:

Sense Mana (LV79), Double Step (LV64), Charm (LV50), Measurement (LV47), Hammer Arts (LV44), Axe Arts (LV39), Writing (LV32), Intimidating Shout (LV31), Mathematics (LV31), Steady Hands (LV26), Increase Price (LV21), Lower Price (LV20), Sword Arts (LV17), Dagger Arts (LV13), Gourmet (LV7), Marching (LV5), Shout of Valor (LV3),

Tier 3:

Expel Mana (LV63), Mana Manipulation (LV62), Weighted Strike (LV41), Precise Strike (LV40), Double Strike (LV40), Flash Step (LV29), Contract (LV14)

Tier 4:

Mental Resistance (LV57), Mana Skin (LV56), Inject Mana (LV54), Extract Mana (LV36), Magic Blacksmithing (LV31), Air Walk (LV15), Magic Threads (LV15), Empowered Spell (LV14)

Tier 5:

Sense Soul (LV40), Soul Manipulation (LV13)

Tier 6:

Soul Devourer (LV2)


Increased Skill Levels

Meditation (LV79) 3,950exp

Running (LV78) 3,900exp

Blacksmithing (LV73) 3,650exp

Hammer Skills (LV62-63) 6,250exp

Sewing (LV31) 1,550exp

Alchemy (LV10-11) 1,050exp

Dancing (LV1-13) 4,550exp

Double Step (LV64) 6,400exp

Hammer Arts (LV44) 4,400exp

Mathematics (LV31) 3,100exp

Steady Hands (LV25-26) 5,100exp

Expel Mana (LV63) 9,450exp

Mana Manipulation (LV62) 9,300exp

Weighted Strike (LV41) 6,150exp

Flash Step (LV27-29) 12,600exp

Mana Skin (LV56) 14,000exp

Mental Resistance (LV56-57) 28,250exp

Inject Mana (LV54) 13,500exp

Extract Mana (LV35-36) 17,750exp

Magic Blacksmithing (LV29-31) 22,500exp

Air Walk (LV13-15) 10,500exp

Magic Threads (LV11-15) 16,250exp

Soul Manipulation (LV12-13) 12,500exp


Skill Experience: 216,650exp

Crafting Experience: 98,711exp

Fighting Experience: 3,438exp


Total-experience Gained: 318,799exp


A manic grin forms across my face when I see how much progress I’ve made. My goal was to hit level 74 by year's end, and it looks like that's almost guaranteed at this point.


There's one more month left in the year, and even if I don't level a single skill and just continue my crafting, I'll easily reach level 74.


But I’ll admit, I didn’t expect to see such spontaneous growth after I started practicing with Tabitha. Focusing solely on my hammer-related skills, I've finally managed to pass level 40 in Weighted Strike and spurred the growth of many other skills.


My most used skills have all felt some sort of growth, with a few seeing exceptional improvements. I've grown more used to using Magic Threads in my everyday life, and combined with the skill levels I gained in Air Walk and Dancing; I'm much more nibble on my feet now.


Plus, every other night, I go into my soul and practice Soul Manipulation along with Mental Resistance.


I wonder if it’s the pressure of leaving my village that’s furthering my growth? Or maybe it’s having a seasoned training partner like Tabitha that’s helping me?


Either way, I realize I'm still not strong enough yet. I still haven't managed to land a hit on Tabitha, and Pacore's strength is an even greater enigma. I can't let my recent success go to my head.


“Is it ready?” Sandra asks me, holding a beaker of prepared herbs.


“Ready when you are,” I give her the go-ahead, dismissing my status page.


I don’t know what it is, but as Sandra uses the tongs to place the beaker into the forge, I get the feeling that today is the day we finally decipher engraving inks fourth step.


Today is the day we succeed; I know it!




A Certain Receptionist’s Point of View:


"Your manifest?" I hold out my hand, giving the young merchant a dazzling smile.


"Right here, mam," The young man fumbles over a piece of parchment, clearly dazed by my smile. It's incredible how good looks effortlessly sway some people.


“Thank you,” I take the offered parchment while using my free hand to twirl my bangs. “How was your run; any issues that need reporting?”


Blushing, the merchant stutters out a reply. "We ran into a small goblin pack in between villages, but my guard and I took care of them," the young man proudly proclaims. He flexes one of his arms, showing off his less than toned muscles. But I shouldn't expect much from a level 37 traveling merchant. The boy is still green enough that he isn't aware of my status here. He's probably one of the new hires Grey picked up to temporarily fill in the open positions while the company is divided.


Blaiton, Yleles, and the earls keep fell weeks ago, and there's been little communication from Giovanni. "I hope the boss is ok," I mumble to myself.


“What was that?” The young merchant leans forward, thinking I was talking to him.


“Nothing sweety,” I playfully push against his chest as to keep him from leaning over the counter. "I was just remarking what a wonderful job you did." The young man is so captivated by my smile that he overlooks my hand, blurring over his document stamping it as required, or when my eyes scan the document, double-checking the math in my head.


Everything appears to be in order, and it doesn't appear he fudged a single copper in his report. Just another sign he's new to the game. "Do you know where to receive your pay?" I ask the still star-struck man, holding out his paystub.


"I-," he stammers, taking the offered piece of paper. I patiently wait for the boy to gather up his courage and ask what all the new hires ask me. "This is my first big payday," he motions to his paystub with his eyes. "Would you care to celebrate with me tonight, my treat?"


I give the young man another radiant smile, if only to keep myself from laughing. The young man just got back from his first route, and just because he was paid a little more than a single gold coin, he believes he did a good job.


Once he starts drinking later, I'm sure he'll brag about his accomplishments to anyone who'll listen. Then he'll learn from his seniors that returning from a route earning less than three gold coins for your work is only considered sad.


"Sorry, maybe next time," I smile politely, letting the boy down easily. I'm sure he'll hear stories of me tonight as well.


“Oh,” the young merchant hangs his head in defeat. “Then I’ll see you around, miss…? I don’t think I caught your name,” he rubs the back of his head embarrassingly.


I hold a finger up to my lips. "It's a secret, let me know if you figure it out," I playfully wink at him, and his hope is rekindled.


“I will,” he happily proclaims, waving goodbye to me.


“No, you won’t,” I say to myself as he leaves through the building’s front door.


With that taken care of, I turn around in my chair and address the girl who’s been patiently waiting for me to finish talking to the budding merchant.


“News from Blaiton, head receptionist,” the girl bows her head, offering me the letter with both hands.


"Thank you; you may go," I take the note, dismissing her so she can get back to work.


She curtly nods and scampers off while I open the letter that has the bosses' seal on it. I promptly scan through the letter that looks like a simple update on the surface. The letter mentions how boss Giovanni has successfully brokered a deal with Scholl and that soon the branches can be linked up again, an essential update, but that's only the surface message.


Using a code only I know, I read the message that is secretly hidden in the text…


Pacore agrees, now is the time to remove Grey. Leave no loose ends and make sure he suffers!


Short and sweet, just like the boss.


I activate Twin Minds and think to myself, "Giovanni has permitted you to take care of Grey."


“Alright, I’ll start making preparations,” a voice similar to my own echoes back in my head. “Does he suspect anything?”


“I’m not sure,” I think to myself. “I need to report that Giovanni’s message arrived, and I’ll see his reaction to the news.”


“Be careful,” the voice in my head warns me.


“Of course,” I reassure it.


Straightening up my workstation, I turn to the other receptionist working with me. "I have to deliver an important message to Mr. Grey; does he have any appointments at the moment?"


My coworker shifts a few papers around before shaking her head no. “It looks like Mr. Grey cleared his schedule for today,” she informs me.


"Is that so? That's good news for me," I giggle, but on the inside, I'm on high alert. I heard nothing about Grey clearing his schedule, and if the information never naturally made it to my ears, it means he took steps to hide it from me.


I grab the letter from Giovanni and head up to Grey’s office to see his reaction to its contents. The cipher I’ve memorized is incredibly complicated, and there's no worry that Grey or his associates could unravel it, so I have no fear of leaving it with him. Besides, Grey would think it more suspicious if I didn’t show him the note from Giovanni.


As I make my way up the last flight of stairs leading to Grey's office, I notice it's quieter than usual. I can still hear staff members talking to one another, but it's muted for some reason like the offices nearby are emptier than usual.


“There might be something going on,” I communicate through Twin Minds.


“What is it?” I’m asked back.


“I’m not sure,” I reply.


"Retreat for now!" The voice in my head demands.


“I’m fine,” I try communicating my feelings through the link. “I have the defensive treasures you gave me. At the first sign of trouble, I’ll activate them and escape. Always so paranoid,” I playfully admonish the voice in my head.


I come to the hallway leading to Mr. Grey's office and see his office doors are closed. Sneaking up to the doors, I try to listen in on any conversations that might be taking place on the other side. I hear nothing, but I use my meager magic skills to activate my defensive rings should this really be a trap of some kind. Great, now I'm paranoid too. For all his cunning, Grey wouldn't risk burning all his bridges by attacking me.


I bring my hand up to knock on the door.




One’s Point of View:


A loud explosion rips through Drey as my connection with my sister abruptly cuts off.


"Lizzy!" I scream as I emerge from my hiding place. Leaving the shadows of the alleyway behind me, I activate every one of my movement skills and rush across the branch's front lawn. Fragments of charred stone and still burning wood are scattered everywhere.


People are lying on the ground, dazed from the explosion that just tore a giant hole in the building. Where once was Grey's office is now a raging inferno.


The world slows as a vast pit forms in my stomach.


I activate a magic ring meant to protect me from flame spells and quickly scale the building. Holding my breath, I dive into the flames, searching the wreckage for my sister, telling myself she must have activated her defensive magic tools before she entered the office.


I overturn flaming rubble, again and again, looking for any signs of her. My sharp eyes pick out the fragments of an alchemical bomb as I search the remains of the room.


Grey, you bastard, I don't know how you knew to run, but I'll enjoy torturing you to find out. And Gods help you if you killed my sister, I'll make your death so gruesome it will even frighten the Goddess Ebeon!


Struggling to hold back my rage, I scour every inch of the blast site for any signs of my twin sister.


I’m about to give up hope when I see one of Grey’s doors leaning over the remains of a nearby wall.


Rushing over, I fling the door to the side and see my sister's charred remains underneath. We're identical twins and have always looked alike despite the scars I've gotten from my line of work, but my sister is almost unrecognizable. Most of her hair was burnt away by the blast, and I'd estimate over 90% of her body is burned. Her only defining feature that lets me know that it's her are the two magic rings on her left hand that I gifted her years ago.


I scoop my sister up in my arms and jump out of the burning hole in the wall. People shout as my robed form crashes to the ground below, but I ignore them as I fish my best healing potion out of my satchel. It's faint, but her heart is still beating.


Uncorking the healing potion, I take a large swig of the bitter brew and force it down my sister's throat with my lips.


I don't waste any time waiting to see if my potion starts working. Picking up my sister again, I rush out of Silver Herd's courtyard, heading towards the best healer remaining in the city.


Pushing my body to its limits, I don't slow down for anything. I don't have time to be stealthy, so dozens spot me as I weave myself through busy streets and run across rooftops when needed.


"Don't die on me, Elizabeth," I keep repeating over and over, hoping my sister will regain consciousness.


It's only been seven minutes since the explosion, and the fire-bells finally start ringing in the distance. Once one bell starts ringing, the entire city comes alive. Soldiers are signaled to take up their positions on the wall as emergency bells meant to warn people to return to their homes start going off around the city.


“Damn you, Grey!” I hiss through my teeth. I can’t believe he would resort to an alchemical bomb in the city.


I can see him retaliating against Giovanni, but this is overkill. Scholl won't show mercy after such a stunt. I only hope he evades their capture long enough for me to find him.




Lennard Grey’s point of View:


“It appears our parting gift was found,” I remark to Max, glancing back at Drey in the distance.


“I’d say so,” Max dryly agrees.


It’s faint, but I can hear the sirens going off in the distance. “Do you think we got that number bitch?” I smile at Max.


“I instructed everyone that you weren’t to be disturbed unless it was important, so chances are she’s the one who set off the bomb. Only the head receptionist isn’t afraid to interrupt you.”


"But do you think she's dead?" I clarify my question.


"I'm not sure," Max admits. "If she were really One, like the evidence suggested, then I’d say there’s a 60:40 chance she’s dead.”


"Only 60%!?" I shout. "That was a fuckin alchemical bomb I had you prepare!"


"You asked for my opinion," Max calmly tells me while leading our two jelen forward. "We're talking about Giovanni's top agent after all. It took us four years to put her identity together and even longer until she was assigned to our branch. Even now, I'm not 100% certain she was One in the first place."


I snort at my bodyguard. "It doesn't matter if she was One or not. That blasted woman reported my every move to Giovanni and got what she deserved," I grin from ear to ear. "Let's pick up the pace; I want to reach Red Dust Mountain before nightfall."


“Are you sure your information is accurate,” Max asks me with a worried look.


I can't help but laugh at my companion. He didn't hesitate to get me an alchemical bomb, but he's worried we'll get lost in some old caves. “I have the map right here,” I pat my pocket, reassuring my friend.


“And the route leads through Red Dust Mountain?” Max skeptically asks.


“My people found this map when we took over the operations in Teeburn. Back when Red Dust Mountain was still known as Iron Pit Mountain, the city had much stricter tax codes. The city lord taxed everything that moved through its gates. It was fine when it was mostly iron being shipped from city to city, but what about when the miners discovered a rare metal sample or even a vein of magic gems? Moving it through Teeburn meant you'd lose a good chunk of your profits. So, one day, the various mining crews got together and found a single route through the various caves in the mountain."


"The existence of this path has been lost to time, but if we follow this map, we'll be able to bypass the blockade around Teeburn. And once we're back in Olebert, we can use the various information we have on Pacore and General Pitz to secure us a new start further in the country. And even better, after we tell everyone how Giovanni rolled over to help Scholl, he'll never be able to reach us."


“What about Aaliyah, sir?” Max asks me.


“That silly girl is already bound to me,” I laugh. “She’ll have to seek me out herself if she wants to get anywhere in life. And worst-case scenario, she’s killed when Giovanni realizes he can’t use her. I’m hoping we can get some more use out of her before then, but it isn’t that big of a deal if she dies. With all the coin we brought with us, starting a new business or joining one of the big merchant companies is only a matter of time.”


"Giovanni thought he was so smart placing his spies around me, but he never considered I might have people in Blaiton as well. As soon as I heard he meet with Pacore, I could tell he would make his move sooner rather than later. The boy needs another few decades before he can outmaneuver me!" I heartily boast.


"Once we're on the other side of those mountains, we've won,” I happily proclaim.


I've finally beaten Giovanni. Now all that's left is to destroy everything he cares about. My only regret is I can't see his face when he learns that he's lost.

A note from kosnik4

5,000 words.


Short but things are happening. Did you like the chapter, I hope you did. See you all tomorrow. 

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About the author


Bio: Just love a good story.

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