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Kervin’s Point of View:

 

“I missed this.”

 

“Missed what, Boss?” Lurte asks to the side of me.

 

“This,” I gesture to the forest around us. “A quiet trip through the woods. No bandits after us, no emergency delivery; just a simple delivery to a client.”

 

"And the fact that we're picking up hundreds of gold coins worth of weapons and materials has nothing to do with it?” Reel cheekily comments from behind me. It was his turn to rest in the cart, but it wasn't as comfortable as usual, with the pile of ore and other goods taking up most of the space.

 

Turning my head slightly, I see that he’s sitting on the edge of the cart with his feet dangling over the side. “That too,” I smile at him before turning my attention back to the road even though I don't need to; the bivol know what they're doing. “Everything has just been so hectic lately. You know I used to hate this,” I say more to myself rather than expecting a reaction from my men.

 

“Is that so?” Reel responds, sounding more than a little bored. I’m happy that no one was trying to kill us this time; Reel… not so much.

 

But he answered me, so I keep the conversation going. “That’s right; I wanted nothing more than to be promoted to an office position or perhaps run one of our branch stores. Funny, right?"

 

Reel scoffs at the idea, but his attitude doesn't bother me as much as it used to. In fact, I realized he keeps things interesting.

 

When we escaped Drey and the assassins Grey sent after us, we were essentially stuck at Silver Herd’s main offices, in case he made another attempt on my life. It wasn't all bad; I had a sit down with Giovanni, where he spelled out my job regarding Aaliyah. But in the end, he basically repeated everything I already knew, treat Aaliyah like the golden roc that she was and help her produce as many golden eggs as possible. However, being stuck inside wasn’t nearly as glamorous as I thought it would be.

 

I was officially one of Giovanni’s trusted people, but that only equated to me being allowed to help with some of his more important paperwork. The paperwork I was subsequently buried under until Grey was all but confirmed dead.

 

In comparison, the last two weeks were much more enjoyable. Finally, I was allowed to make my way back to Drey, where I was happy to learn my house was spared in Scholl’s takeover of the city. Aaliyah and others laughed at everything I had piled up in my house, but now with goods priced at their highest points in decades, I can sell almost everything in my house for nearly double what I paid for it.

 

Add in my percentage of the goods I’m about to pick up, and I’m going to have more gold than I know what to do with.

 

It’s true what they say; even in strife, one can build wealth.

 

“Now that I’m back on my cart, I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be." Of course, the further away from all that paperwork, the better, but I don’t say that part aloud.

 

“Well, I can agree with you there." I see Reel draw one of his daggers out of the corner of my eye and start playing with it by flipping it around. "It's no fun sitting around doing nothing." Then, faster than my eyes can follow, he throws his dagger into a bush in the distance. A goblin falls out of its hiding space with Reel’s dagger buried in its throat. Poor thing, bad luck choosing that spot to hide.

 

I shake my head; since when did I start feeling bad for goblins?

 

“Don’t worry, he was alone,” Reel tells Lurte and Ryiba, who draw their weapons and close in on me. He then jumps off the cart and moves over to fetch his weapon.

 

It's funny; the sight of a goblin used to send shivers up my spine. But, I guess after surviving an assassination attempt, things like goblins don’t bother me anymore. That or Reel’s personality is rubbing off on me.

 

“I guess goblins are returning to the woods,” I offer up an observation.

 

“There can’t be many of them if we’re only seeing one now,” Reel notes as he jogs back to the cart, and I think he’s right.

 

We should be reaching the village any moment now, and we’re just now seeing a single goblin? Before the whole magic spider fiasco, Lurte and Ryiba would usually have to kill multiple groups of the buggers before we’ve made it this far. To think that was only a year ago, it feels like it's been much longer than that. More happened in this last year than in all the time I’ve spent working for Silver Herd combined.

 

“Still, we should inform the village when we reach it.” I snap the rains, making the bivol kick it into high gear. They go from slow to slightly less slow.

 

I wonder how the village has been doing since we were last here? It has been more than a couple of months since I made that final ore delivery, and I can’ help but imagine they were starving for supplies. I brought bags of salt, spices, and other everyday items the village would regularly order from me, along with Aaliyah's ore. I’m sure they’ll be excited to see me.

 

“What in the gods name is that!?” Ryiba exclaims, pulling me out of my thoughts.

 

He was walking slightly further in front of us, but as we round the bend in the road, the rest of us saw what made him exclaim as he did.

 

We were at the front of the village, but it looked totally different than what I remembered. The small clearing we usually camped at, the trees around it, they were all gone. From our position, there was an unobstructed view of the village where once was a thin line of trees.

 

In front of us, I count nearly twenty villagers working in what could only be described as organized chaos. Six men, including the man I recognize as Aaliyah’s father, were felling trees like they were saplings. Once a tree fell, another group of six would move over and start processing it. Another handful of villagers was digging up boulders and roots, while three men who I assume were hunters stood nearby keeping an eye on the diminishing forest.

 

Coordinating the chaos was Salus, the village’s architect. We've done business in the past, but I've never seen him working like this before.

 

“Hey, it’s Kervin!” One of the villagers finally notices us. One of the hunters was already moving to point us out to Salus, but now we drew everyone's attention.

 

“Hello,” I call out with a friendly smile as I nudge my bivol forward. The cart shakes over the upturned earth, but my boys are strong enough to pull us through much worse than this.

 

“Sorry for the mess, but we’re a bit busy at the moment," Salus calls out to me as we near him. "You, get those beams ready. The cart should be back soon," he turned and snapped at one of the workers.

 

“It’s quite all right," I start to say, but Salus cuts me off mid-way, issuing all kinds of orders in quick succession.

 

I watch, stunned, as everyone follows his directions.

 

“Sorry,” he gives me a half-baked apology without taking his eyes off his workers. “But as you can see, I have my hands full. These guys wouldn’t know a dovetail joint from a miter joint if their lives depended on it,” he said, motioning to a duo planning down a felled tree trunk.

 

I had no idea what the salty architect was grumbling about, but it was apparent we were only getting in his way. “We’ll be on our way,” I tell him as I usher my bivol forward out of the construction zone.

 

“Yeah, alright,” he waves me off, not paying attention to us in the slightest.

 

What were they doing here? I spot a stack of large stone blocks off to the side, and next to it is a sizable mound of crushed stone. Were they building some sort of fortification? A building, perhaps?

 

Curiosity drove me to snap my reigns again, hurrying us into the village. Usually, we'd park in our regular spot and see where all the goods I brought would go, but with our clearing destroyed, I guess our only option was to head to the clearing in front of the headman’s house. Maybe there we could get some answers.

 

It didn't take long for us to make it to the headman's house, but it was long enough to get a rudimentary glimpse at the village. It looked nice, nicer than most of the villages we’ve passed through on our way back to Drey.

 

I also didn’t miss the brand-new stone building behind the headman’s house either. Its large double doors were wide open, showing off the impressive arsenal within. I’ve sold enough of Aaliyah’s work to realize at a glance that she made everything within.

 

“Should they have it open like that?” I frown at the open doors.

 

“Do you want to try opening those doors quickly in an emergency?” Reel sarcastically chuckles at me. I guess he has a point there.

 

“Still,” Reel casts a curious glance at the village’s new armory. “That's a lot of gear for a village this size. I'd say there are enough weapons in there to outfit most of the village if need be. I’d feel bad for any bandit’s stupid enough to try and attack this place.”

 

“Aaliyah’s been busy,” Lurte jokes.

 

“That she has,” I find myself mumbling under my breath. The construction at the front of the village, a new armory, what else has changed since we were last here?

 

“Kervin, it’s good to see you!” Headman Downs was waiting for us outside his front door as we pulled up. “It’s been too long!”

 

“It has, hasn’t it,” I smile, noting that he looks happy to see us.

 

“Is all that rubble back there for Aaliyah? I swear that girl" Headman Downs shakes his head like a tired parent would, but his colossal smile contradicts his tired tone. He feigns a sigh before focusing on the crats tied down on top of the loose ore. “I hope you brought stuff for the village as well and not just what Aaliyah asked for.”

 

“You don’t have to worry there,” I lean over and pat the nearest crate. “I didn’t forget about the village. I have salt, spices, and considering it's almost the new year, I brought a few barrels of mead with me. Are you interested?” I give the headman my best merchant’s smile.

 

“That’s exactly what we need,” Downs beams at me. “We’re celebrating my daughter’s marriage this festival, so the alcohol will be much appreciated.”

 

“Congratulations,” I smile. I brought alcohol with me because I figured the village could use a drink after being isolated for as long as they have, but I didn't know they would be holding a marriage ceremony. If I knew that, I’d probably would’ve brought more.

 

“Thank you,” Headman Downs’ grin widens. “Things have been busy lately, and the supplies are much needed.”

 

“We noticed,” I glance in the direction of the village’s entrance. “You tore up our clearing.”

 

“Sorry about that. but the scale of the project demands as such.”

 

“Speaking of which, what are you building?” I curiously ask, raising an eyebrow.

 

“We’re building a wall," Headman Downs grandiosely proclaims, spreading his arms wide.

 

“A wall!?” I’m rendered speechless. This village probably doesn’t even have a thousand people, and they want to build a wall? I can understand why they would want one, but walls aren't generally built around a settlement of this size.

 

"And the village can afford that?" I tentatively inquire after I collect myself.

 

“Normally no,” Headman Downs informs me. “But as I said, my daughter and her soon-to-be husband returned right before all this Scholl business. After studying in Drey, he became a respectable architect, and he proposed the project. Considering his family, it shouldn’t surprise you that he has lofty aspirations.”

 

“His family?”

 

“Yep, he’s the older brother of Aaliyah. He convinced her and her master to mine out the required stone for it. It will take a few years to complete, but I’m assured the project is doable. I’m sure you saw how eager people are to help.”

 

I nod along with his explanation. If anyone else told me such a plan, I’d call them a fool. However, if the project involves Aaliyah and her family, I can see it working out. What is this village turning into?

 

It will be a fort all unto itself, located in the middle of nowhere, but a fort non the less.

 

“I would love to stay and chat, but I have some things I need to take care of around the village. Why don't you leave the goods meant for the village here outside my house, and I'll have my boy look at them. He needs to get used to dealing with merchants if he’s going to succeed me someday,” Headman downs good naturally chuckles.

 

“I won’t go easy on him,” I tease. I’m sure we both know that making a few extra coppers off some bags of salt nowhere compares to the business I do with Aaliyah. I'll push his son for him, but I won’t charge what I could.

 

"Much appreciated," Headman Downs gives me a wave and walks off, leaving my men and me to unload the crates and barrels we brought.

 

We get everything unloaded before the headman’s son shows up, but I’m not worried about leaving my goods unattended, so we make our way towards Del Razen’s clearing. I’m sure Aaliyah’s there now, and if not, it’s still the place she’d probably want us to drop off her delivery.

 

The trail we go down looks worn out, and I can see tracks of were multiple carts passing through here. It's obvious where the stone came from; I just hope Aaliyah didn’t spend all her time mining stone when Giovanni asked her to sell us some extra metal.

 

Eventually, through the trees, I hear the sounds of someone hammering metal, signaling we've arrived.

 

As my cart rolls into the clearing, I’m greeted by at least one familiar sight. The clearing looks the same it did the last time I was here. I honestly half expect to see a massive furnace or some other contraption thrown up since then, but everything looks the same.

 

Aaliyah must have seen us coming because she stops working after we make it a few feet into the clearing and lowers her tools. As we got closer to her, I saw what she was working on. It looks like a steel staff, but it's a lot rougher than the usual stuff she sells me.

 

“Kervin, you’re alive!” She smiles at me as I hop off my cart.

 

For a second, my merchant's smile slips, and I frown, but then I remember she's a lot like Reel, probably why they get along as they do. Forcing my smile back onto my face, I greet her. “We did. Was there any doubt?" I puff up my chest, but her response makes me deflate.

 

“A little bit, yeah. I was happy to hear from Giovanni that you all escaped, ok." She holds out her hand, offering me a good-natured shake, but I freeze right as I’m about to grasp her hand.

 

I didn’t feel it when we were approaching, but now that I’m standing directly in front of her, I can feel a physical weight behind Aaliyah.

 

She’s always had a presence about her like most high leveled individuals I’ve met, but it’s different than that now. I can’t put my finger on it, but she feels dangerous. It’s a lot like what I feel when I’m around Giovanni’s bodyguard.

 

I felt the same thing from Reel before the assassins attacked us, but somehow, he keeps his pressure contained whenever he’s not in battle. I didn’t even feel a thing when he killed the goblin earlier.

 

“Is something the matter? Is my hand dirty?” She pulls back her hand and looks it over for whatever is bothering me.

 

"No. nothing like that," I force out, trying to hide my emotions like a good merchant should. "I just thought you look like you've grown a bit taller than the last time I saw you," I lie.

 

“I hope not,” she exclaims before looking herself over. “I’m tall enough as it is. I’m happy for the height my parents blessed me with, but I don’t want to stand out more than I already do.”

 

“That ship has already set sail,” is what I want to say, but I bite my tongue. "It must have been my mistake," I smile, offering her my hand.

 

We shake, and I'm again reminded of her skill that creates a boundary around her. It doesn’t feel like I’m shaking someone’s hand, but merely being forced to wave my hand up and down, and it’s a lot stronger now too.

 

So, the clearing hasn't changed, but it appears Aaliyah has.

 

"Well, look at you.” Reel picks now of all times to make his presence known.

 

“Hey Reel,” Aaliyah smiles at him, and I don’t miss that it's more of a friendly smile than the polite one she gave me. “I heard you found Gray’s body.”

 

“What was left of it, more like,” Reel chuckles in a way that makes my hair stand on end.

 

"Goblins, am I right? I wish I were the one who found him.”

 

“You and me both,” Reel agrees with Aaliyah and starts scanning her with his eyes. “You’ve improved,” he notes with a smile I don’t like.

 

I’m about to discourage him from doing whatever he's thinking about, but he moves before I can say anything. He throws a left hook at Aaliyah, pantomiming like he's holding one of his daggers.

 

I don’t even have time to shout as Aaliyah brings up her left arm, blocking his imaginary blade, but she takes it one step further. She steps in and sends a very real fist at his armored chest.

 

Reel flashes backwards and starts laughing. “I take it back; you've improved a lot." He looks delighted that Aaliyah was able to stop him. And judging by her smile, the feelings were mutual.

 

She playfully scoffs but continues to grin at him. "You have no idea."

 

“What is this?” A cold voice cuts into Aaliyah and Reel’s conversation, and a new pressure bears down on me.

 

Aaliyah’s smile slips as she turns to a woman in armor walking towards us. Her face is a mask of neutrality, but it only takes one glance from her to make me want to turn tail and run.

 

When I was helping Giovanni with paperwork, I had a chance to meet Pacore; this feels just like then. I can't bring my head up to meet her eyes. It was like a literal mountain was walking towards me.

 

Aaliyah doesn’t say anything when the woman stops in front of her. Her head swivels in Reel’s direction, and it was his turn to be looked over. I watch as Reel takes a tentative step back for the first time. His face was flushed, and I could swear there was a bead of sweat forming on his cheek.

 

“You are an assassin,” the woman in armor states like a ruler handing down a sentence. "Are you here for the girl or me?" Her hand drops to the sword at her side, and alarm bells start going off in my head!

 

“If I was, did you think I would just tell you," Reel defiantly answers, and I've never had a bigger urge to strangle the man.

 

Luckily, Aaliyah steps in on his behalf, both metaphorically and physically.

 

“Whoa there,” she steps in-between Reel and the armored woman. “He’s with Silver Herd; he's a friend."

 

“Is that so?” The woman questions without taking her hand off her sword and never taking her eyes off Reel.

 

“He is,” Aaliyah assures the woman while starting to nervously sweat like the rest of us. “He’s helped me loads of times, even saved my life once.”

 

The woman hums in thought before slowly removing her hand from her sword. “Alright then, if you know each other, I suppose it's all right." Hearing her words, both Aaliyah and I let out a collective sigh of relief. “Though it is a little disappointing, I was hoping for a real battle for a change.”

 

I start coughing. This woman is insane!

 

“Funny, I was thinking the same.”

 

Shut up, Reel, you idiot!

 

The previously stony-faced woman smiles, and my instincts scream at me something is wrong.

 

“Really?” The woman asks with may too much enthusiasm. She pushes past Aaliyah and stands directly in front of Reel. “If that is the case, how about we have a quick sparring session. I’m sure it would be entertaining for the both of us.”

 

Standing behind the armored woman, Aaliyah frantically signals Reel to turn down her offer, but Reel ignores her. "That sounds like fun; we're here for the rest of the day. Can I find you when I'm ready?"

 

Aaliyah mouths, 'you idiot!' at him before shaking her head back and forth like it couldn't be helped.

 

“You may find me here when you are ready,” the armored woman savagely grins at Reel before walking back the way she came. She sits down on a bench next to a mediating girl I just now notice.

 

"You're dead; you know that, right?" Aaliyah flatly tells Reel.

 

"You sure? After taking her hand off her sword, I didn’t feel any more killing intent from her. I think she's just like me and board at the moment."

 

Aaliyah snickers in Reel's face, "You have no idea what you got yourself into. Let me know when you plan to fight her because I want to be there when they scrape you off the quarry’s floor.”

 

“I take it Pacore’s student lives up to her reputation.” It’s only thanks to Reel’s comment that I finally realized who the woman was. Giovanni warned me one of Pacore’s students was in the village and that I wasn’t to get on her bad side. And here Reel is antagonizing her! I’d berate the man if I thought it would do anything, but I’ve long since realized Reel only listens to Giovanni.

 

“I mean, she has to be good if she helped you improve so much in such a short amount of time." Reel tries to antagonize Aaliyah, but it doesn't work.

 

“Sorry, what was that? I could’ve sworn I heard a dead man talking just now," she counters.

 

Reel and Aaliyah continue to trade barbs, and I’m forced to step in at risk of the two of them squabbling the day away. “Not that this isn’t productive, but I believe we have some important business to attend to,” I remind the bickering pair.

 

“Oh, yeah, my order,” Aaliyah quickly breaks away from Reel when I remind her that the rest of us are here.

 

She skips to the side of my cart so quickly that I could only barely follow her movements. She smiles when she sees the pile of kaglese I brought her.

 

“You have no idea how much I needed this,” she happily remarks.

 

I thought she might be mad because I only managed to bring her a third of her original order, but it looks like she knows that magic materials are hard to come by right now. While she is happy, I should sweeten the deal.

 

“That isn’t all,” I motion to the two crates sitting on top of the ore. “Giovanni wanted you to know he was able to get ahold of some more mithril and a couple of the herbs you requested.”

 

“Really?” Aaliyah excitedly pries open the nearest crate with her bare hands. The wood splinters as she easily removes the crate's lid that was nailed shut. Granted, most physical builds could do the same thing, but watching a fifteen-year-old girl do so was… unsettling, to say the least.

 

“It isn’t much,” I remind her. “But I hope it’s better than nothing.”

 

“It is,” she beams at me. “I suppose since you brought me such a special gift, I should show you one in kind.”

 

Aaliyah nimbly leaps off my carriage and beckons for the four of us to follow her. She leads us over to one of the small sheds in the clearing and dramatically flings the doors open—my pulse races when I see the shiny weapons inside.

 

Swords, spears, each in her usual design, but their tannish coloring gives away what they’re made of.

 

Reel steps forward, grabs one of the short spears and begins twirling it around. He lets out a long whistle, signaling his approval. “I might just need to take up spearmanship.”

 

“These weapons are already sold,” I remind him.

 

“Pity,” Reel sniffles, pretending to be sad. “Hey, Aaliyah, how much to make me a dagger?”

 

“You don’t have enough daggers already?” She motions at Reel’s entire body, most likely more aware of how many blades are hidden all over his person than any of us do. In all the time I’ve known him, I’ve never seen Reel run out of daggers. Lurte, Ryiba, and I even have a friendly bet going between us as to just how many he carries with him. If he follows through and fights Pacore's student, we might finally get some sort of an idea as to how many he has.

 

“You can never have too many daggers!” Reel looks offended at the implication.

 

“Sure,” Aaliyah smiles, but that quickly morphs into a smug look. “But I’m contractually obligated to sell all my goods to Silver Herd. So you'll have to negotiate an order through Kervin."

 

Reel’s draw drops, and the rest of us have to hold back our laughter.

 

"I'm just joking," Aaliyah laughs at Reel's expense. “I still owe you one for saving my life; a dagger is the least I can do. I'm busy at the moment, but if you stop by sometime near the end of the day, we can discuss the design you want.”

 

Reel practically bounces in place in excitement like a kid promised a sweat treat.

 

“I can’t enchant it yet, but it should be able to hold a strong enough one in the future.”

 

Reel and I pause. “Did you just say you couldn’t enchant it ‘yet’?” I ask.

 

Aaliyah proudly puffs out her chest. She then reaches over to a shelf in the shed and pulls out an ugly-looking piece of scrap metal. She only needs to hold it for a second before luminescent lights ignite across its surface.

 

No way! It’s only been three months!

 

“Sandra and I are still working out some kinks, but we're hoping to be able to reliably enchant stuff by festival time. It eats up a lot of resources, though."

 

It’s no wonder she asked for more mithril and herbs; I can only imagine the gold she burnt through to advance at such a quick pace.

 

"Oh yeah, in my excitement, I forgot. Did you bring me the magic gem I asked for?”

 

I nod, “It’s in my safe.”

 

“Awesome! Hey Sandra, your gem arrived!” Aaliyah calls out to the girl who’s meditating on the bench, and I realize it's Headman Downs' daughter. "Sandra!" Aaliyah calls out again, but she doesn't stir.

 

“Normally, I'd hate disturbing her like this, but I know she would want to see it,” Aaliyah justifies to herself before walking over to the statue of a girl.

 

“Hey Sandra,” Aaliyah places her hand on her shoulder, and her eyes snap open.

 

“Aaliyah!” Downs’ daughter snaps. “You know how annoying it is when someone interrupts your meditation!”

 

“I know, I know,” Aaliyah gestures for her to calm down. "But I figured you'd like to know your magic gem arrived."

 

Aaliyah motions over her shoulder at us, and when the headman’s daughter sees us, her eyes go wide, and she leaps up from her seat. “Kervin’s here!?”

 

Aaliyah chuckles at her friend. "You were in such a deep meditation you missed him entering the clearing."

 

Sandra Downs blushes in embarrassment, but that doesn’t stop her from moving past Aaliyah and jogging over to us.

 

I haven’t seen her in a while, not since the last letter I delivered to her over six months ago. I notice a few subtle differences between the woman walking towards me and the girl I last saw. She was glowing, and not in the Vitality sort of way. Her clothes were loose, but that didn't stop me from seeing her growing baby bump.

 

“Congratulations, Ms. Downs,” I politely bow my head.

 

"It's been a while, Kervin."

 

“It seems everyone is saying that these days,” I give her my best merchant’s smile. "I wish someone told me sooner," I motion to her stomach. "I would've bought you a gift."

 

“I guess it's more obvious now," she affectionately places her hand over her lower abdomen. "The gem you brought is enough.” I can see the excitement in her eyes.

 

So, I move over to the safe built into my cart and open it, fetching the small case within. Aaliyah stands next to her friend as I carefully pass over the jewelry box.

 

She slowly opens the small box, and the two of them stare at the small gem within. It's only slightly bigger than a grain of rice and is a bit cloudy, but I was reassured it was the best Giovanni could get his hands on with such short notice.

 

“It’s perfect,” Sandra says, and I feel a bit of tension leave my body.

 

“With the mithril he brought, you’ll have your engraving pen in no time,” Aaliyah affectionately pats her friend’s shoulder before looking at me. “Thanks, Kervin.”

 

"It is Giovanni you should be thinking," I point out. I know better than to take credit for something I didn’t do.

 

“Still, thanks,” she repeats. “I’m afraid to ask, but what’s the damage?”

 

I cough into my hand and gather my nerve. “The gem is 34 gold coins.”

 

Sandra Downs pales at the price, and Aaliyah looks like I just slapped her. “34,” she repeats in an icy tone.

 

“I was told it was extremely hard to get ahold of on such short notice. Giovanni mentioned he had to go through some ‘less than reputable dealers’ to find one. 34 gold coins is what Silver Herd paid for it; you're not being charged a single copper of mark-up," I stress.

 

“Aaliyah, I don’t need-," Sandra starts saying, and I immediately break out in sweats. Silver Herd paid a lot over the asking price to get that gem, and if Aaliyah says she doesn't want it, there isn't much we can do.

 

"No, it's fine," Aaliyah lets out a sigh, and I can breathe again. "I ordered it; it's only right I buy it.”

 

“I’ll pay you back,” Sandra promises.

 

“I know you will; we have a contract after all."

 

Do the two of them have a contract together? I'm curious what it is, but I keep those thoughts to myself; however, I file that tidbit of information in the back of my mind.

 

“Excellent, I thank you,” I clap my hands together and lay on the charm. "Though it may be expensive, I'm sure the two of you will make great use of it." I then seamlessly switch over to business. “Where would you like us to unload your ore?”

 

“Over by the smelter is fine; the same place you put it last time.”

 

I wave my hand, signaling Lurte and Ryiba to get to work. While they do that, I should take inventory of everything I’m supposed to pick up. “So, which of these weapons are for the order?”

 

"You hold onto the gem," Aaliyah tells Ms. Downs before focusing on me. “Almost everything in this shed belongs to the order I promised Grey.”

 

I nod and start doing calculations in my head. Aaliyah’s original contract stated she would be paid 70% of the market value for everything she made. Still, now, the market is overinflated, and Silver Herd had already sold everything to Pacore at a lower price. Giovanni told me to pay 80% of what we sold them for, so that’s…

 

“278 gold coins there,” I mumble to myself. “And the arrows?” I ask Aaliyah.

 

“Over here,” she says in a proud tone of voice.

 

Aaliyah leads me over to a large flat box sitting next to her workbench. The wood has been sanded and applied with a varnish; the hinges shine in the sunlight, and I’m happy I won’t need to procure my own box this time.

 

“You have the honors,” she motions for me to open the container; so, I do just that.

 

As soon as I open the wooden case, I suck in a breath of air. The arrows inside look like works of art rather than weapons. The black arrowheads contrast with the tan arrow shafts and make the colorful fletching pop. Running my hand down one of the arrow shafts, I marvel at how smooth it feels to the touch. You can’t even tell that it was formed by a hammer.

 

Engraved just above the fletching on each of the arrows is Aaliyah’s maker mark, and just like the arrow shafts, they are smooth to the touch. She must have used engraving ink to make them. Her maker's mark isn't a rune, so I don't think it will affect anything, and because it is flush with everything else, it won't affect the arrow's aerodynamics. Not that I’m an expert on either subject.

 

But no matter how I look at it, these nine arrows are a cut above the first one she sold me.

 

“What do you think?” She asks me with a proud grin on her face.

 

“I think they are amazing,” I give her my honest opinion. I don't, however, tell her I think Silver Herd lowballed Pacore on their price. It’s our fault for underestimating the monster that is Aaliyah, but we could’ve easily gotten 10% more for arrows of this quality.

 

“Happy to hear it. So, does all this cover what I owe Silver Herd?”

 

“That and then some,” I tell her. The goods here were enough to cover her debt to the company and then some. It even covers the price of the goods I brought her today. “I was told you also had some metal for me?”

 

“I do," she maintains her smile and leads me over to another shed. Inside this one are stacks of iron and steel ingots. "I can't sell you all of it because we need to save some stock for everything we're building for the wall. That's what I was working on when you showed up," she motions to the steel rod she was working on.

 

“I understand; how much can you spare?”

 

"Three-quarters of our stock, roughly 220 steel and iron ingots,” she tells me.

 

“Standard ingot size?” I ask.

 

“Of course,” she nods.

 

That means each ingot weighs roughly 20 pounds. Four hundred forty ingots at 20 pounds; so, that gives me almost four and a half tuns of metal. It isn’t enough to supply all of our customers, but it will put a small dent in what’s needed. At least we’ll get some product out to our most valued clients.

 

Steel is currently trading at 24 copers a pound, nearly triple its original 9. Iron is even worse at 15 when it used to be traded for only 4 copper a pound. The market value of everything is 17 gold coins and 16 silver, an astronomical sum considering it's only iron and steel and not a magical metal. At 80%, Aaliyah will get 13 gold, 72 silver, and 8 large copper. Adding together what we owe her for the weapons and what she owes us for the second delivery, she went from owing us 450 gold coins to use owing her 18 gold coins!

 

Damn, I didn’t bring that much with us!

 

“How’d we do?” Aaliyah asks after she sees the gears in my head stop spinning.

 

“It pains me to say it, but it looks like I didn’t bring enough gold with me.” Walking over to my safe again, I fetch the bag of coins hidden there. Aaliyah’s hands tremble as I offer her the bag. "That is 15 gold in assorted coins. With this, Silver Herd owes you three more.”

 

“Yes, I’m no longer in debt!” She happily shouts.

 

I stand there sharing in her enthusiasm, I may only get a small percentage of everything, but that still guarantees quite a bit of gold for myself.

 

“Shall we make it official,” I hold out my hand after Aaliyah stops jumping for joy.

 

“With pleasure,” she firmly takes my hand. Even with her barrier skill still activated and our hands not actually touching each other, our skills still recognize the transaction as complete. I feel a warm glow in the pit of my stomach, signaling I just got a good deal of experience. I hold off on pulling up my status page, but I bet my Merchant skill leveled just now.

 

It may have taken months and an assassination attempt, but it was all worth it in the end. Maybe in the future, I'll-

 

My thoughts halt as Aaliyah squeezes my hand tighter than I would like. Her cheeks are red, and she has a drunken expression on her face.

 

“Are you ok?” I ask, to which Aaliyah just smiles at me.

 

I seem to have forgotten how weird she could be. Do I even want to ask what just happened?

 

Oh well, for the amount of coin I just made, I could put up with anything. And I’ll continue to do so for as long as possible.

 

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**********

 

6,450 words.

 

Did you think you would see Tabitha and Reel go at it? All that and more on the next chapter of Magic-Smithing!

 

Jokes aside, did you enjoy the chapter? It was more on the business side of things, but I needed to take care of it before getting into the more fun stuff.

 

Please tell me what you think below, and as always, stay safe.

 


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kosnik4

Bio: Just love a good story.

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