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“I think we might have celebrated a little too soon,” I sigh at the three glass containers of engraving ink sitting on our workbench.

 

In our excitement, Sandra and I completed the second batch of engraving ink; and seeing how both the first and second batches appeared stable, we couldn’t help but make a third. We should've stopped after the second batch, but what's done is done.

 

It's been a little over two hours since the first batch of engraving ink was completed, and if by now it hasn't turned into black sludge on us like all the other failures, I think we’re in the clear.

 

But as if to spite all our success, I think I see one more problem we have to deal with.

 

“What is it?” Sandra asks me, removing her face mask for the day.

 

“It’s the first sample,” I tell her.

 

"What's wrong with it? It isn’t going bad, is it?" Sandra moves over and picks up the glass container of brownish-black ink, holding it up to the dipping sun to get a better look at its contents.

 

“No, I don’t think it’s going bad. The problem is how much mana it’s absorbing,” my frown deepens.

 

“Is it not completed?” Master Del asks, walking over to see our final results. Tabitha walks next to master with a blank expression, seemingly not interested in what's happening. Tabitha might not be interested in the crafting aspect of my life, but I notice her eyes focus on the engraving ink in Sandra's hands and the other two containers on our workbench. She looks interested for a second before all her excitement seems to vanish like it was never there in the first place. I bet she’ll be more excited after I figure out how to enchant my gear.

 

But first, we still have one more problem to solve. "The mixture itself is completed," I explain to Master and a seemingly bored Tabitha. "All that's left is to let the engraving ink absorb ambient mana until it's ready."

 

“Then what’s wrong with it?” Sandra offers me the first batch of engraving ink.

 

I take the offered container of ink and focus on it with Sense Mana. "It's been two hours since we completed this batch, and I can hardly see a change in the amount of mana it's absorbed. I'm not sure how much time it will take for the ink to absorb enough mana.”

 

“Is it that bad?” Sandra frowns, understanding the problem.

 

“After we bottled each batch, I took note of roughly how much mana was in each of the solutions," I move over to our workbench and pick up the little notepad I use to record ideas and observations. "The first solution had roughly 157.38 points of mana in it. That’s pretty low considering the ingredients it’s made from.”

 

“Hold up,” Sandra interrupts me. “You can tell exactly how much mana is in each of those solutions!”

 

“Not exactly,” I shake my head. “I can only sense to a hundredth of a mana point.”

 

“Only a hundredth, she says,” Sandra huffs under her breath. “I need to pick up my training.”

 

“I’m used to monitoring my mana levels when I practice my magic skills, so it’s not that hard to gauge the rough amount of mana in an object if it isn’t too massive or too small,” I explain to my friend. “Each container holds about half a liter of ink and weighs about 75 ounces,” I read from my notes. “We can assume the solution needs to at least double or triple the amount of mana it currently has.”

 

"So, how much mana has the solution absorbed over the last two hours?" Sandra asks me with bated breath.

 

"In the last two hours, the ink has only absorbed .13 mana."

 

Sandra hisses ad recoils like she just touched something hot. “That’s it; that’s nothing,” she exclaims.

 

“I know, but I think I might have a solution,” I grin back at her.

 

Sandra puts her hands on her hip, “Then you were just trying to make me worry?”

 

Sandra’s accusing glare is dangerous, so I explain myself before she has another mood swing and tries to throw a fireball at me. Again. "I'm not sure how we can improve the inks mana absorption rate, but I was thinking, why do we have to wait for nature? I can just inject my own mana into the ink until it's saturated enough."

 

“Are you going to stick your finger into the ink and release all your mana?” Sandra sarcastically asks.

 

"I thought it'd be a little more refined than that." Moving back over to our workbench, I swap out my notebook with my engraving pen. I uncork the stopper from the engraving ink container and start stirring the mixture with my pen. “My engraving pen is a great conductor for mana. I’ll push my mana through the pen and into the ink, all while stirring it.”

 

“Just expelling your magic won’t have that much of an effect,” Tabitha offers her opinion with a blank expression.

 

I smugly grin at my combat teacher, “Who said I’d only be using Expel Mana?”

 

Thanks to all my recent training, it's child's play for me to expel my mana and inject it into my pen. That's where my control would typically start to become muddled, but thanks to my practicing with Mana Threads, I can use Mana Manipulation to keep control of the mana channeled through my engraving pen like it’s an extension of my body.

 

I essentially use Inject Mana twice to pour my mana directly into the ink. Today I've only used my mana to keep Mana Skin active, so I essentially have almost an entire mana pool to experiment with the engraving ink.

 

"Let's see how much mana the engraving ink really needs?" I say in a boasting manner, dumping my mana into the solution.

 

I start off with a confident smile on my face, but maintaining it becomes strenuous after I continue to dump more and more of my mana into the few cups of engraving ink with no end in sight. Sure, some of my mana is lost in the transfer, but not much. How much mana does this ink need!?

 

“Are you ok, Aaliyah?” Sandra notices my strained expression and the sweat starting to form on my forehead as I continue to feed my mana into the ink. Sandra knows Mana Skin keeps the air around me at a perfect temprature, meaning the only reason I would be sweating was if I was overexerting myself.

 

“I’m fine,” I grit through my teeth. “It’s just taking a lot more mana than I expected.”

 

300 mana, 400 mana, the engraving ink devours every bit I pump into it.

 

“I think that’s enough, Aaliyah,” Master warns me when my arm starts to tremble.

 

I choose to ignore Master’s recommendation and push forward; I know my limits, and I'm not there yet. 600 mana, which's over half my mana pool channeled into the engraving ink. That’s close to what I used to blow up those bandits back then. And yet, the engraving ink is still readily devouring the mana I feed it!

 

“That’s enough,” I hear Tabitha’s cold voice behind me. At the same time, I feel her gauntleted hand grasp my shoulder.

 

“I know when to stop,” I grumble, pushing the last bit of mana I’m willing to spend today into the engraving ink. Tapping my engraving pen on the rim of the glass container, I make sure not even a drop of engraving ink is wasted as I remove my pen from the solution.

 

Seeing how I'm following her orders, Tabitha removes her hand from my shoulder and moves back next to Master.

 

“How much mana did you use?” Sandra questions me.

 

“Can you hold this for a minute?” Instead of answering Sandra, I offer her the container of engraving ink.

 

“I can feel the difference in it now,” Sandra gasps in amazement when she takes the ink from my hands.

 

"You should; I poured 650 mana into it," I finally answer Sandra's question while wiping the sweat from my face.

 

“650!” She exclaims, looking at the glass container in her hands. The ink has become glossier than it was, and as Sandra shakes the container in her hand, you can tell the ink has become less viscous.

 

“Well, more like 627, I lost some of my mana in the transfer,” I point out to her.

 

“That’s still a lot of mana,” Sandra remarks. “It’s amazing how much it can hold,” she holds the ink up to the falling sun again.

 

“And it’s not even done absorbing mana yet," I can't help but look at the other two containers of engraving ink and frown. "At the rate the other two are absorbing mana, it would take them 400 days to match the first sample.”

 

“There must be a way to speed up the process. There’s no way alchemists or enchanters would wait that long,” Sandra suggests.

 

“My people have no problem with waiting,” Master offhandedly remarks.

 

I’m about to point out to Master we humans aren’t as patient as Stone kin are when Tabitha takes a step forward, drawing everyone's attention. "Most likely, a mana gathering array is used,” she notes in a bland tone of voice.

 

“Mana gathering array, what’s that?” I curiously ask Tabitha.

 

"It's a large enchantment engraved inside cabinets, closets, or even an entire room; it all depends on what you're charging. Most nobles have them installed somewhere in their house so their staff can charge multiple magic items without the need to call in a mage. The enchantment draws in ambient mana and condenses it, so magic items designed to recharge on their own do it faster," Tabitha explains it to us like it was common knowledge.

 

"Then an alchemist puts the ink in one of those enchanted cabinets, and it charges the ink faster," Sandra summarizes Tabitha's mini-lecture.

 

“Then we need to place the engraving ink in a place with a lot of mana,” I think aloud.

 

“The bottom of the mine!” Sandra shouts out my idea before I get a chance to.

 

“I was just about to say that,” I sulk.

 

“Should’ve been faster,” Sandra playfully sticks her tongue out at me.

 

“You-,” I start to say confidently but quickly realize I don’t have anything snappy to say back. “You grab the ink while I grab a crate from master’s house,” I turn away from Sandra so she can’t see the embarrassed look on my face.

 

“Hurry up, we’re running out of daylight,” she playfully shouts at my retreating form, holding back her laughter.

 

"Yeah, yeah," I grumble, fetching an empty crate from Master's house. Sandra puts the three glass containers in the box and takes it from me with a smile.

 

I grab my war hammer just in case, and we start making our way towards the mine. Tabitha stays behind with Master knowing we’re just taking a quick stroll.

 

"It will be interesting to see how quickly the ink charges at the bottom of the mine," Sandra strikes up some friendly conversation as we walk down the forest trail. "Want to take a guess at how long it will take? I say fifty days.”

 

I balance my hammer on my shoulder and rub my chin with my left hand. So, she’s guessing it will charge eight times faster, huh? I think back to the mana levels at the bottom of the mine. The mana there is roughly twenty-two times what it is on the surface, but just because it’s that high doesn’t mean the ink will absorb it that fast. Plus, I think Sandra is forgetting the first sample isn’t finished charging all the way yet. “I’ll say forty days, but it doesn’t matter that much.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

I grin at Sandra. "No matter how long it takes for the ink to charge, it will always be quicker for me to do it myself."

 

“What about the mana cost?” Sandra raises a questioning eyebrow at me.

 

"That was just because I was trying to see how much mana the ink needed. I could spare 100 mana a day to speed up the process. Even if it takes me fifteen days to fully charge the ink, that's still a lot better than four hundred or even forty for that matter.”

 

"You're only saying that because you have the mana to spare," Sandra looks down at her midsection. "Part of my mana pool is protecting my baby, and the rest I need to practice my skills and spells. I don’t think I can waste 9% of my mana every day charging engraving ink.”

 

“You make it sound like you’ll be pregnant forever,” I joke.

 

“It feels like it,” Sandra groans.

 

“Isn’t it a little early for you to be saying that?”

 

“I’m allowed to complain all I want,” Sandra glares at me with fire in her eyes.

 

“Point taken,” I take a quick step away from Sandra.

 

I give Sandra some space for a few minutes and wait until we enter the quarry before I move back next to her. “Can you handle the light? I’m a little tapped out at the moment,” I grin at Sandra, trying to judge whether she’s still mad at me or not.

 

“I’m not that tapped for mana,” Sandra beams back at me.

 

I have officially given up trying to read Sandra.

 

Would I ever act like that if I ever decided to have kids? As soon as that question pops into my head, I nearly stumble over a rock at the entrance to the mine. Sandra is too busy casting her magic to notice, but that random thought throws my mind into chaos.

 

I'm a woman, I've long come to terms with that fact, and I'm quite comfortable in my own body. But I have been focusing every minute of my time trying to improve my skills and overall level to reach my goal of traveling the world someday, that I've never considered any other goals in life. Do I want a family of my own someday? And what would that family look like?

 

Somehow, I can’t picture myself as a typical mom, and that’s ok. I'll continue working towards my goals, and if I should have a Disney moment where I meet my significant other someday, I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

 

“You ok, Aaliyah?” Sandra’s question pulls me out of my thoughts. “You’ve been quiet for a while.”

 

Glancing around, I see we are nearly to the end of the mine already. Wow, I really wasn't paying attention. "Just thinking about my future," I chuckle, trying to reassure myself as much as my friend.

 

“Oh, were you thinking about traveling the world, slaying monsters?”

 

“Something like that,” I just smile along with Sandra. There’s no way I’m telling her I was thinking about the prospect of a family. I have a feeling I’m not prepared to open that can of worms with a pregnant Sandra. "I was thinking about all the progress we made today and what the results might be tomorrow,” I shift the conversation without Sandra realizing it.

 

"Yeah, but you forget one thing," Sandra tells me.

 

“Yeah, what’s that?” I ask.

 

“We still need to clean up when we get back.”

 

"The best part of the day," I sarcastically remark with a straight face. Sandra and I laugh together all the way back to master's clearing.

 

**********

 

“Goodnight, master,” I wave to Del. Sandra joins me in waving, while Tabitha locks eyes with Master with an expression that screams, 'fight me!'

 

"Night; I'll see the two of you tomorrow." Master nods encouragingly to Sandra and me but purposely avoids acknowledging Tabitha in any way, shape, or form.

 

Too bad for master, Tabitha isn't discouraged so easily. "Yes, see you tomorrow, Del-Razen. We may spar then."

 

I snort through my nose, trying to hold back my laughter, while Sandra has her hand up to her mouth, barely holding herself together. When did Tabitha learn master's full name? Master was not prepared to hear his full name and freezes just long enough for Tabitha to consider his silence as a sign of agreement. "I look forward to our rematch tomorrow."

 

Master doesn’t even recover after Tabitha disappears down the forest trail leading to the village. He just stands there with his mouth open, not understanding how his goodbye could be turned on him in such a way.

 

“I think she broke him,” Sandra whispers to me.

 

“Probably,” I whisper back.

 

“Got to give her credit, though,” Sandra remarks. “She doesn’t take no for an answer.”

 

Sandra turns to leave, so I yell one last thing to Master, breaking him out of his stupor. “Don’t stand out here all night!”

 

As Sandra and I start walking towards the village, we hear Del yell behind us, "What just happened?!"

 

At least I’ll get a small break when the two of them spar; I chuckle to myself.

 

The sun is almost entirely over the horizon by the time we make it to the village and walk past Sandra's house. I probably shouldn't consider it Sandra's house anymore since she’s moved out, but that doesn't matter at the moment because Camden is waiting outside with a letter in his hand.

 

“How’s my little girl doing?” Camden spreads his arms and ambushes Sandra with a hug. “I haven’t seen you in forever!”

 

Sandra awkwardly returns the spontaneous hug. “It’s been two days, Dad,” Sandra deadpans.

 

While the two of them have their lovely father-daughter time, I cast a glance at Tabitha, who's watching everything take place before she retires to Camden's house for the evening.

 

“Dad, why are you waiting for us outside the house?” Sandra asks, finally separating herself from her emotional father.

 

“Oh, right,” Camden straightens himself out and hands me the letter. “This came for you thirty minutes ago. I figured you’d be stopping by soon, so I didn’t send one of my boys out to deliver it.”

 

“It isn’t for Tabitha?” I cock my head to the side. The last message sent to the village was an update for Tabitha from Pacore, and I can't think of a reason someone would send me a letter… unless it were urgent! The letter isn't sealed or anything, so I have no idea who it's from.

 

I unfold the paper to see three words staring back at me:

 

“Contact Giovanni immediately.”

I glance up from the letter at Camden, wondering if anything else was sent with it, but he only shrugs his shoulder.

 

Alright then.

 

I turn to Sandra and ask, “Can you make it back to your house without me?”

 

Sandra gives me a ‘really’ look. “I’ll take that as you trying to be a good friend and not you looking down on me.”

 

"Thanks, see you tomorrow," I offer a quick farewell before taking off jogging towards my house. Mom is going to be mad when I tell her I need to take a quick trip into the forest before dinner.

 

**********

 

When I get home, I’m forced to explain why I’m heading back out again after grabbing the hidden magic transceiver from my room, but after mentioning the emergency message I received, Mom nods in understanding. "Alright, but be safe and hurry back quickly," she tells me before giving me a quick hug and an encouraging push towards the door. I smartly choose not to comment on Mother’s generosity and take the chance to bolt out of the door before she changes her mind.

 

My plan was to sprint into the woods as soon as the door closes behind me, but I'm frozen in place as soon as I step outside and come face to face with Tabitha. The way Tabitha is standing suggests she had been waiting for me.

 

“Going somewhere?” Tabitha asks with a blank expression that is honestly a little terrifying in the fading sunset.

 

“I have to take care of something really quick,” I start inching myself to the side, not taking my eyes off the woman.

 

“I’ll join you then,” Tabitha takes a step closer to me. Damn, how do I handle this? Giovanni told me the communication magic tool is incredibly rare and not to show it to others. Plus, I doubt Giovanni would be happy if I brought Tabitha along with me to our emergency meeting.

 

"That's quite alright," I tell her. "I just have to handle something private."

 

Tabitha’s eyes narrow, “You aren’t running away, are you?”

 

I can’t help but snort at her question. “Yes,” I sarcastically reply. “I’m choosing now of all times to run away.” Shaking my head, I let out a sigh. “I have no intention to run away from you and Pacore. There’s just something private I need to take care of. If you’re that worried, you can wait here until I return. It should only take me an hour at most.”

 

Tabitha stares me down, thinking over my proposal. “Alright, I’ll wait here for you. Just this once.”

 

“Thanks,” I offer a smile to the stony-faced woman. “I’ll be back soon,” I reassure Tabitha one more time before running behind our house and into the woods.

 

Pushing Sense Mana to the max, I use my skill to navigate the almost pitch-black forest and make sure Tabitha isn't secretly following me. I only gave myself an hour, so I need to hurry.

 

Though I'm rushing through the forest, I don't drop Sense Mana for a second. Not only am I using it to navigate, but I also need to keep an eye out for predators. The chameleon spiders are all but a thing of the past now, and the hunters have once again started spotting farkas tracks around the village. The wolf-bear hybrids are most active at night, and objectively speaking, I'm a tempting snack.

 

Sure, I could turn them into meat paste with my hammer, but I’m already on a time crunch. Luckily that thought doesn't jinx me, and I make it to the spot I can connect with Giovanni in record time. I wasn't able to move this fast in the woods before I started training with Tabitha. Both my footwork in and out of battle has seen a lot of improvement as of late.

 

Pulling the communication device out of my pocket, I start channeling my magic into it. Gods, I hope this connects quickly. I don't want my mana pool to drop much lower while I'm out here all alone. Maybe I can figure out a way to extend the signal after I get used to enchanting things?

 

"Aaliyah?" Giovanni's abrupt voice pulls me out of my thoughts. We've never connected this fast before. Was he waiting for me to call him?

 

"I'm here," I reply to the magic tool. "What's the emergency that required me to take a moonlight stroll through the woods?"

 

"Has anyone shown up to your village?" Giovanni answers my question with his own.

 

"Not that I've heard of, and people showing up is kind of a hot topic around here," I joke, hoping to break some of the growing tension I'm feeling.

 

“You need to keep an eye out for anyone suspicious over the next couple of days,” Giovanni tells me in an ominous voice. I can’t help but glance around me when I hear such a warning, even though Sense Mana tells me nothing is in my perception bubble.

 

“What’s going on?!” I demand. “What happened?”

 

The line goes quiet for a minute before Giovanni answers in a solemn voice, “Grey has fled Drey.”

 

So that’s why he wanted me to contact him, “You think he’ll come for me?”

 

"No," I hear Giovanni sigh on the other end. "We have reason to believe he's heading for Teeburn. However, Grey still has plenty of associates in the area, and we can't take chances that he'll try something nefarious with you."

 

“We still have a contract with one another,” I remind Giovanni. “Grey would be crazy to try something when he already thinks I’m bound to him.”

 

“Normally, I would agree with you," Giovanni responds in a sorrowful voice that makes me nervous. "But I can't underestimate the man any further than I already have."

 

It doesn’t sound like Grey left the city quietly. “What happened?” I swallow a nervous lump in my throat.

 

“Grey fled the city, but not without leaving an alchemical bomb in his office.”

 

“Oh shit!” I can’t help but exclaim.

 

“Indeed,” Giovanni continues explaining. “The fire is out, but news of the devastation is still trickling in. My people report a third of the branch is destroyed along with countless documents. Fourteen people are confirmed dead, while three others remain in critical condition. One of the injured being my best receptionist.”

 

“The lady who worked the front desk,” I mumble, recalling the nameless receptionist that seemed to read me like a book.

 

"Yes," Giovanni confirms my suspicions. "She was… is, one of my best people," Giovanni corrects himself. "She was the one closest to the explosion," Giovanni tells me with anger building in his voice. "Grey warned all his people to leave the building beforehand, and we can only assume she was his target."

 

“And she’s still alive?” I can’t help but ask. I have experience with surviving explosions, and though I don’t know how strong an alchemical bomb is, I can guess it’s stronger than my overcharged flame spell. The receptionist was intimidating to deal with but not in a physical sort of way; I can’t see how she would survive such a blast.

 

"She was lucky," Giovanni cryptically tells me, barely holding back his growing anger. “Grey!” I hear Giovanni growl out the name like itself is a curse.

 

I can’t believe Grey would do such a thing.

 

No, that’s not right. I can't pretend like I know the man. After all, I've only met him twice, and both times I didn't see how much of a snake he was. I just find it hard to believe a man could do such a thing.

 

Bringing my arms up, I wrap them around myself in a comforting manner. The magic and wonder of this world sometimes makes me forget evil people aren’t exclusive to my past life. There will always be people who don’t care who they hurt as long as it furthers their goals.

 

This is a grim reminder that I can’t take everyone at face value. When I finally leave the village, I'll come into contact with a lot of new people, and it would be foolish of me to think a few of them won't try to use me, whether it's for my blacksmithing skills or my relationship with Pacore.

 

“Do you think my family is in any danger?” I ask.

 

"I'm not sure," Giovanni honestly replies. "Even now, I have my best agents tracking down every one of Grey's people, but I can't be certain we'll get them all. And Grey himself is still on the loose; it's anyone's guess as to what his plans are now that he's committed an act of open rebellion in Scholl's territory."

 

“Scholl is aware of what he did?”

 

"They are," Giovanni informs me. "I've sent letters to Lord Bullok; he's the person sent by Scholl to run everything, as well as Pacore, detailing Grey’s horrendous actions. By tomorrow morning, Grey will be the most wanted man in this corner of the world.”

 

“But you don’t know where he is,” I point out.

 

“We don’t,” Giovanni replies dejectedly. “That’s why I needed you to contact me immediately.”

 

“Is that the only reason?” I question Giovanni.

 

There's another long pause in the conversation. "Is it right that you can still break your contract with Grey? The distance doesn't matter?" Giovanni asks me.

 

“I can,” I answer.

 

"And you can force the backlash on him?" Giovanni further questions.

 

“If you want to ask me something, be clear about it,” I say into the magic tool.

 

“I want you to make him suffer!” Giovanni finally snaps. “The bastard stole money from the branches vault, betrayed the company that’s supported him all these years, and worst of all…!” Giovanni takes a few deep breaths between all his yelling. “And worst of all, he hurt my people! If there’s anything you can do to make Grey suffer, I’ll be eternally grateful,” Giovanni pleads to me.

 

“I think I can do that," I respond in a reassuring voice. Grey was already on my shit list, and hearing about what he's done only strengthens my resolve. "I'll contact you tomorrow morning, letting you know how it went."

 

“I appreciate your help, Aaliyah. Remember to be on the lookout for anyone suspicious. Once you terminate your contract with Grey, he’ll see you as fair game,” Giovanni reminds me.

 

“Let them come,” I grin into the magic device. “I’d like to see Grey’s lackeys try anything with Tabitha here.”

 

“All the same, be careful. I have to continue coordinating with my men in Drey. If anything, and I mean anything at all happens to you or your village, contact me immediately."

 

“I will,” I agree to Giovanni’s demands. I can only imagine what struggles he must be going through at the moment. “Best of luck to you.”

 

“To you as well,” Giovanni replies before our connection is cut.

 

I stash the communication magic tool in my pocket and tiredly rub at my eyes. Here I thought I would be able to get a good night's sleep before my training with Tabitha tomorrow. Oh well, at least I'll finally get Grey's stupid contract out of my soul.

 

But first I need to get back to the village and have dinner with my family.

 

**********

Clothes changed, teeth brushed, hair combed out; everything's taken care of, I can finally go to bed.

 

Spreading my arms, I lean back and let gravity do its job. My bed welcomes me with a soft embrace after what was a pretty eventful day. Sandra and I have basically solved the engraving ink issue, and barring any unforeseen circumstances, tomorrow we'll have an accurate timeframe to make engraving ink. That should've been enough excitement for one day, but then I had to go and get that letter from Giovanni.

 

I still have a hard time comprehending Grey’s actions, to willingly endanger so many people, most of which had nothing to do with his and Giovanni’s rivalry. You wouldn’t be far off calling him a monster.

 

I made it back to the village before Tabitha came looking for me, but the rest of my night felt muted after my conversation with Giovanni. Bad news tends to do that to people. I know I don't have strong ties to Silver Herd besides my working relationship with Kervin, but hearing about such a needless tragedy tends to bring down one’s mood.

 

I spent most of dinner explaining the success Sandra and I had today, but in the end, I had to tell my family about the explosion in Drey and about Grey fleeing the city. Dad was surprised such a thing could happen, but mother was oddly unfazed by it all. She said stories like this were all too common in the larger cities and especially the capital. Apparently, greed has blinded many to try such foolish things; mother also noted almost every story ends with death.

 

"Is it wrong I agree with that statement?" I ask myself as I roll into position on my bed and pull my covers up. I believe Grey deserves to be punished for his greed and what he did in Drey.

 

Or is that what I’m telling myself to justify what I’m about to do?

 

Closing my eyes, I dive into my soul.

 

When I open them again, I’m standing on my little patch of grass in the center of the clearing I always appear in, surrounded by my artificially created plants.

 

My always blooming rose garden is always lovely to look at, and even my work in progress birds of paradise brings a small smile to my face. I've perfectly leveled the ground since I have no reason to worry about rain in my soul.

 

Around my patch of grass are multiple stone pathways leading to different sections of the clearing. I take a path to the left that leads over to my Picasso tree and the plaque hanging from it representing Grey's contract. At this point, I've decided to leave the tree as it is, considering it a piece of funky art rather than a sad attempt at replicating a… I think it was supposed to be an oak tree?

 

Oh well, I shrug my shoulders; it doesn't matter anymore.

 

What does matter is this, I reach out and grab the plaque that’s fused with my weirdly shaped tree. Using Soul Manipulation, I dislodge the ornament without leaving so much as a dent on the tree.

 

The plaque feels heavier than I remember, but that's reasonable since the sign has the same amount of experience crammed in as half of my landscaped clearing. Mom said a person's Contract level dictates the strength of each contract and how many a person can have active at any one time.

 

Grey definitely didn't skimp on our contract. Since Sense Soul hit level 40, I've been able to look deeper into the plaque I created out of Grey's experience shards, and I've noticed something interesting.

 

There are actually three skills mixed into our contract. The primary skill and easiest to piece out is, of course, Contract, but there are two other skills mixed in with it, and I think they are what make the contract so much stronger than the contracts I've formed with Kervin. I don't have anything even remotely resembling them, so I can only guess what they do.

 

But no matter how interesting it is to look at, it's been in my soul long enough. I can't help but stare down at the plaque in my hands.

 

I always planned to remove the contract from my soul, but my conversation with Giovanni is still fresh in my mind.

 

I promised to help make Grey suffer, and there is a method of removing Grey's contract that I've thought about in passing that would surely do just that.

 

I've grown more accustomed to controlling my soul, and it would only take some meditation for me to drag this plaque out of my soul and back into the real world. The experience would dissipate and return to Grey, nullifying our contract while simultaneously causing him some pain if Kervin is to be believed.

 

That’s how I originally planned to expel Grey’s contract, but if I really want to hurt him…

 

A slight tremor runs through my soul as I gather excess experience points and merge them with trace amounts of mana circulating throughout my soul. Two ghostly tendrils extend from my back and grasp either side of the plaque with ethereal claws.

 

If one-sidedly breaking our contract and sending Grey’s experience points back to him causes pain, what would happen if I devoured the experience and made it my own?

 

I’ve been reluctant to experiment with Soul Devourer since I got the skill, but this seems like a good time to test out some theories I’ve been postulating.

 

I wouldn't be devouring Grey's soul core, only the experience he used to try and tie me down. A fitting punishment if there ever there was one. And if I lose my sanity like I did when I killed the soul devourer, there isn't much I could do; there's only so much experience I can take.

 

The more I think about it, the more it seems like a good idea.

 

If I’m going to test my tier 6 skill, I might as well test it on another monster!

 

My two tendrils of soul and mana envelop the plaque, and I recite the name of my skill.

 

“Soul Devourer!”

 

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A note from kosnik4

6,000 words.

 

Ha-Ha, Cliffhanger!

 

...

 

.......

 

.............

 

That's all I have :) 

 

See you tommarow.


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kosnik4

Bio: Just love a good story.

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