Silence had surrounded both Doliy and Drelt as the former’s magic kept them from being able to hear the loud noise around them or be heard by anyone beyond the, unseen, magical bubble. Not that the latter needed magic to not be heard.
The pair’s conversation was short and mostly one sided as the slave made simple gestures and did all he could to explain that they were not looking for her.
Doliy eventually agreed that it was unlikely finding her was the goal for two people in such a state. One, with an infirmity that was getting worse all the time, having to carry the other who appeared to be passed out in a drunken stupor.
Before the conversation was completed properly they noticed the barmaid coming over with three meals, one of much better magnitude than the other two, and the muted effect was gone in time for the barmaid to be heard announcing that the food was for them.
“I forget your name slave, but I would say your master should leave here before the celebration and revelry of the tournament truly starts. He is too naive and oblivious. He can claim otherwise, but he is a fool. A useful fool, but a fool all the same no matter what he says.”
With that, the woman took her food and walked over to another table where she wouldn’t be seen by the pair of former companions as long as they didn’t turn to actively look at her.
Drelt ate the food he had been brought slowly while patting Victor on his back occasionally. He already knew that this man had done more for him than anyone else would have. He had never felt as elated as when Victor praised him for the woodworking for the games.
By the time that Drelt’s meal was finished, Victor was just beginning to come to.
“Did anyone get the license plate of that truck?”
Drelt helped Victor sit up as he tried to think if he knew those words. He remembered hearing the word truck once before. As far as he remembered it was said to be a type of cart with something to keep the driver safe from the elements. It didn’t quite make sense to him based on how he was told about it, but he was sure his master wouldn’t lie to him.
License plate was another verbal oddity. He was sure that he knew what the words meant, but if a person had a license they were usually put into something more durable like crystal or paper made from magically empowered trees. Having a license as part of a plate sounded like something that wouldn’t work except perhaps as a way to display it. Perhaps some high-class restaurants would want to show off a license placed on a plate as a way to decorate and show their qualifications, but beyond that, it didn’t make any sense.
The concept, in its own way, was like his master. Logical but only if you looked at it in a very specific way.
“Oh, food. Just what I needed.”
Victor started to dig into his meal faster than Drelt had usually seen him eat. Sure his master had never acted like he was a stuffy noble, but he tended to have an order with how he ate. This time he was eating like it was some competitive contest instead of something you just had to do or a relaxing break from the irritants of life.
Drelt felt a bit fascinated by how Victor was acting.
Was this related to what he had just done? Removing the fang of the beast was an amazing feat after all. It only made sense that there would be some sort of backlash for it.
While Drelt didn't know about the magic that Victor seemed to have, he knew that there was backlash for every form of training with mana. It is true that some of the backlash isn't to dangerous compared to some of the other backlashes', and there are certain spells that put a massive strain on the body in different ways if the person doesn't have proper mana control and scores.
Drelt had been given the mana test at one point in his life but was never told what his scores were. All he knew was that, since nobody had tried to teach him how to use magic, his scores must have been lacking. Even a slave, if they had impressive enough mana scores, would often be provided training and education in the magical arts.
He knew of a fellow slave who had scores where her lowest score for mana was a six. She was sent to a place to be magically trained, he didn’t take note at the time much about it. She was eventually freed, at least in a sense.
The fact that place where she had taught bought her slave contract was all he knew for sure at that time. He later learned, from a slave in the carts before he was bitten, that those places pay a lot more than the slave is worth if they pass, and then they employ and even pay the slaves. They are still slaves. The only obligation they have is to learn magic and teach those who come to do so when ready. In addition to that, they can buy their freedom with the money that they earn.
He heard that those slaves tend to not bother worrying about being freed since the life they had there was better than anything they could have imagined.
Thinking about that and looking at his master, Drelt wondered if he would buy his freedom when the time came or if he would rather stay at his master's side like the slaves who were magically gifted often did.
When Victor came to he wasn’t sure where he was or how long he had been out of it. The only thing he was certain of was how much stiffness and soreness he felt.
“Did anyone get the license plate of that truck?”
He said it before he could even think as something he had heard some of his college friends would say after being hit hard by a hangover. Victor had gotten a buzz on occasion but didn’t like the idea of losing control over himself and had never gotten drunk so far in his life. Although even drinking as much as he had wasn’t technically legal, but he on occasion would try to be one of the guys.
When he got his senses back, Victor realized what sort of establishment they were in, but not the specific one. It only mattered that he had food in front of him ready for him to eat.
“Oh, food. Just what I needed.”
Victors’ appetite was ravenous. He didn’t think he had been out of it for that long, but his hunger was like when he had passed out after making his new card. Was it because he was using his card to draw out the claw that he couldn’t actually see?
Thinking about what had led him to this state he could only assume that was the case. Perhaps because he was using more estimations than he had had to before.
In his mind it made sense. The old saying of knowledge being power felt like it fit here. Everything else that he was drawing in he had a lot of information about, true it was mostly visual, but it was there. Size, shape, and in many cases its texture. There were even cases where the smell or taste was viable, but here it was a lot of guesswork.
When he tried to do it on his own without knowing anything about the fang it just failed, but this time it worked.
He thought on it when he felt the top of the pouch where the first fang had been placed. It was a dangerous deadly item in a sense, even if it wasn’t fast-acting.
The dangerous components were slow to dissolve due to it all formed upon itself to hold itself together, but now that it was isolated Victor couldn’t help but think that he would need to dispose of it somehow.
Something like this could be stepped on sure, but he thought it likely that would, at worse, cause a foot amputation. Victor’s imagination, however, came up with the idea of someone grinding it into something like a powder and mixing it into someone's drink or just putting it in the food and hoping they ate it.
The thought of someone having the bubbling flesh happening in their organs made him pause and make a slight retching sound. Luckily it was just the sound that happened a few times before he stopped.
Looking over at Drelt, Victor smiled a bit.
“You brought me here didn’t you?”
Drelt nodded just a little bit.
Victor asked and was answered in regards to if his shoulder felt any better and if Drelt had paid for the food at the table, being told yes each time.
“I’ll pay you back once we get back to the inn. Once I feel better I’m going to get that second one out of you.”
Drelts face lit up dramatically as he gave a thumbs up.
Victor didn’t think this was the best use of the hand signal, but since he had no words he thought any hand signal should be given more leeway.
The silence that Drelt had lived with, well maybe silence wasn’t the right way to explain it, but Victor stuck to those words. Regardless of the proper word, the silence might soon be lifted.
Once the fangs were both removed from his body the poison that was keeping his vocal cords from working would eventually be weak enough to no longer have any impact. The real concern was if it had been in him for so long that the damage might be too much to allow proper speech.
Regardless of his concerns over Drelt’s future, Victor stood up after finishing his meal.
“Let's head back to the room. If I’m being honest I’m curious what those two decided to do with a day off.”
The walk back to the inn was about how one might expect, but upon entering he did hear something that drew his attention. At first, it was a voice that sounded like it was roaring, but once the noise got his attention, Victor's attention took note of everything.
“I said I want to rent the entire inn why do you argue? I will pay double the usual price for each room so long as I can use this whole establishment for myself and my compatriots.”
The inn’s owner was looking up at the reptilian beastkin who was speaking for the group. Despite her shorter stature, Victor guessed about five foot four, the woman was not taking any crap from the much larger man. Although in this case, neither one was backing down.
“My inn is on a first come first serve basis. I have people who have paid ahead and as long as they keep paying I won’t demand they leave just because you are offering more.”
She reached up to poke the beastkin in the chest.
“Your coin might be good here and now, but it is only double. If you do this and I force them to leave, I won’t have a good relationship with them. I will have a stain on my reputation that can’t be washed away because of short term greed.”
The beastkin started to growl and bared his teeth at the innkeeper.
“Don’t you take that tone with me. This is my inn and my domain. Do you want all the rooms that remain? If so I will rent them all to you now for as long as you pay me to keep them and if you are the first to ask when someone leaves, I will even let you rent those rooms as they free up, but nobody will be kicked out just for you.”
Victor couldn’t help but chuckle a bit at the sight, mentally not audibly. To him, it looked like a common trope where the hero would come in and save the innkeeper or that the innkeeper would show herself not to just be a common innkeeper. Perhaps she was a retired hero or a noble or a royal, but he doubted the real world would follow such common tropes.
Normally Victor wouldn’t approach such a large group, about ten or twelve by his estimate, but he saw an opportunity to earn a little coin and maybe upgrade to a better inn in the meantime. While he knew that money didn’t solve everything, it was the most versatile way to get what you needed.
“Gentlemen,” Victor said as he approached with his arms wide to show he had no weapon, “It seems like you have a problem. Namely, people like me and my slaves are staying here and you wish to have this place to yourself. My problem is I have this room already and I want to make sure that I have a place to stay. Especially if the tournament is going to be happening and, as I was told, rooms will be getting harder to find.”
About half of the beastkins turned to look at Victor with various expressions on their faces.
“See if the owner isn’t willing to rent out the rooms when people have already rented them you do have another option that you could utilize. It will cost a fair amount of money unless you can’t afford a bit of give and take.”
The lizard beastkin began to step towards Victor, which caused him to take a step back without realizing it.
“I can afford to buy this place just with the funds I have on me and then I could banish you from this establishment without a second thought.”
“Not if I don’t sell it to you,” the innkeeper exclaimed, “Plus you have to be part of the kingdom to own land in the capital.”
The beastkin glared at the woman, who stood with her arms crossed.
“Don’t give me that look. Every year I get unreasonable requests from people with more money than sense. That said if you can convince him and the other two people renting rooms to go then I will gladly let you rent the entire place for as long as you like.”
She pointed at Victor as she spoke, “Because I will rent to the first person to pay for their room as long as they keep up the payments. I don’t take reservations I just take people as they come.”
Seeing the innkeeper and the beastkin glare at each other, Victor took a half step back and coughed to try to get their attention.
“I am just saying if you want those of us who are already here to leave the best way would be to bribe us all. Or you could look into a different inn instead. I have been told this is a mid-level inn, ah no offense intended ma’am just what people have told me, so surely if you got so much money you could afford a better one.”
Stepping forward, the beastkin lowered himself a bit to look Victor eye to eye, “Location. This is the closest to where my clan wishes sell our wares when everything picks up. That said I won’t bribe someone like you. There are other inns, by your own admission, that are better than here. You should go there instead and just let me rent out the inn.”
Victor was struggling to keep his legs from giving out on his as he stared at the man's sharp teeth inches from his face.
“I like it here. My slaves like it here. I’m comfortable. I was even about to pay for more time before going to my room.”
While most of it had been the truth the last part of his statement was meant as a mild deception, but he would do so if he had to in order to make his side of the situation stronger. Or maybe tell Drelt to pay for it and reimburse him once back in their room.
Extending a couple of claws from his fingers the beastkin pointed them at Victor's face. If not for the fact that his legs didn’t seem to be working, he would have likely stepped back and away from the larger figure.
“I could destroy you and then you wouldn’t need a room.”
Unable to help his tone, Victor's voice quivered as he replied, “Y you could, but what then? There are two others and the innkeeper. Plus the laws of the kingdom. If you st start killing people can you really trust that you won’t be found out? Do you trust you can escape punishment that easily?”
Revealing his teeth the beastkin slowly opened his mouth and let out a loud laugh, “Fine I will bribe your guests. He is right though I want the location, not the inn, and by renting every room at once no notable chance of outsider thieves sneaking into my room. Gather all the guests and we will make them an offer they are unlikely to refuse.”
By the time the nightfall came, the beastkin had come to a deal with the other two customers within the inn and Victor was the only one left.
Originally the man wanted Victor to go first since he was already there, but he made an excuse saying he had to manage some things with his slaves but would return before too long. It was a cheap tactic, but he wanted to be the last one who had a deal offered to him.
He waited for Alena and Dorun to return, as they had spent most of the day at the guild doing small jobs and told them about the situation. They all understood, or at least Alena did while Dorun just seemed to trust Victor's choice.
The next couple of days went by fairly uneventfully.
Victor agreed to vacate the room he was in, in exchange for triple what he prepaid into it and for twenty-five days worth of a room at a better inn prepaid for him. He had originally asked for forty but was talked down just a little below the number he actually expected.
Victor removed the second fang from Drelt in the morning after a good night's sleep. This time he was able to do it without nearly as much of a physical backlash, although the backlash he did feel was still notable. He assumed it was because this time, while it was still unknown, he had seen one of the fangs first hand and that gave him more hands on knowledge to work with.
After that, he had the reading with Elioce of the short stories and fairy tales. On more than one occasion she got frustrated because, as she put it, the words said didn’t seem to match the patterns she was seeing and eventually rushed him out of the door so she could try it on her own. He heard her muttering something, but was unable to get anything beyond a general sound of annoyance.
In those days, Victor didn’t realize that there were a few people watching him, each one for a different reason.
Walking into Xelebres’ workroom, Esen’no was carrying a tray with a simple meal of stew placed inside of a bowl made of hollowed-out bread.
“It is time for your lunch. I also got a report from Aiwen about Sir Atkins. Would you like me to write out a report or have my lunch with you while I explain the details?”
Xelebre, whose hair was now pure black with multicolor polka dots mixed in, moved to a place that would allow her to eat her meal.
“If it is short and simple enough I can read it while I work. Otherwise, pull up a chair.”
Esen’no rung a bell and sat down as well. Shortly the younger slave Aiwen brought in another meal of stew. This one was in a wooden bowl with the innards of bread on the side.
Once the meal was sat down the boy excused himself and left the room quickly.
“This is mostly second hand. There is some first hand so I will start with what was realized by Aiwen personally.”
Xelebre nodded a little as she began to eat her stew, blowing on it and a bit before each bite.
“It seems he is no longer in the same inn that he said he was in. Aiwen saw him entering the Ivory shore inn. In case you don’t remember that is an establishment that commissioned Zal to do a statue made of ivory of a siren singing on the shore.”
It took a moment for Xelebre to recall that particular request, mostly because if they aren’t commissioning her she doesn’t pay as close attention to them.
“Correct me if I am wrong in my recollection, but that's one of the inns that is considered high end. Or has it changed?”
Esen’no cleared her throat a bit and drank a little from her cup to wash away what had been in her mouth.
“The answer to that isn’t the easiest to give. It is seen by some as the lowest of the high rank inns, but others see it as the highest of the mid-level inns. It is one that nobles will usually be willing to go to when meeting with non nobles, but otherwise tend to avoid it. Non nobles on the other hand feel it is one of the high end inns because nobles can sometimes be seen there.”
“So the answer to your question is a fine line of both yes and no. Nobles are willing to go there, but don’t go out of their way to.”
“I see,” Xelebre replied, “But it is the lowest quality inn that a noble would be willing to stay in. The pre-tournament festivities should be starting before too long and the inns are going to be more crowded soon. I suspect a noble, even if they are trying not to stand out, would insist on a certain level of accommodations when there is more of a crowd.”
“Your statement isn’t wrong in most situations, but some of what was heard but not directly contradicts it a little bit.”
“Oh? Tell me about it.”
“Before that, there are two more things that Aiwen knows first hand. Sir Atkins has a third slave with him and he also has been seen spending much time at the lightning bug beastkin's library.”
Despite the fact that having more than two slaves wasn’t something that she found shocking Xelebre was glad to have any additional information. The tidbit about the library on the other hand was a lot more curious.
People who couldn’t read wouldn’t visit a library. While it wasn’t unheard of for commoners to read it was something often overlooked in lieu of a profession that they felt could become a long term part of their life. Although it wasn’t uncommon for some kids, especially on the streets, to try to learn to read to sell reading services at some locations, like the guild.
The main reason Xelebres’ family had been so insistent on the whole family being literate was so that when dealing with nobility you could ensure everything was done properly. This was, in large part, to ensure that they were never surprised by a contract. Those who dealt with nobility must always be aware of underhanded tactics was something that she had been repeatedly told.
While the same was true for anyone, with nobility it was about contracts and not just spoken words. One example she had been told, was that with the right wording if you use a cart or horse to deliver some artwork to someone the tools or animals used in transport could be considered as part of the art. A more common one was fees and penalties added into the contracts as ways to reduce the fee the customer would have to pay for any number of minor inconveniences.
The fact that he visited the library owned by a beastkin, especially one with insect features, began to make Xelebre think that Victor could be more open to others than many noble members she has dealt with. Many would only request her or her brother because of their race regardless of if the other would do a better job for their specific wants and needs.
That assumption regarding Victor was, of course, assuming that he wasn’t trying to threaten or blackmail the woman. Xelebre made a mental note to go there on the premise of being asked to paint a design for a book cover and wanting to see what textures they colorations the genre usually had.
Hearing the second hand information took a fair amount of time as well. While a lot of it sounded reasonable, since it wasn’t first hand she knew that she couldn’t completely count on it to be genuine. That said it would allow her to keep an eye out for certain things as she tried to paint a more accurate picture of the man in her mind.
He had some of his slaves doing guild work while his rank was only red.
The bit that stuck out was that he assaulted a beastkin at the inn that he claimed he was staying at, leaving him with many broken teeth.
Some people said that he sometimes had a spear with him, but always had a sword at his side.
There was a story that he was found passed out drunk in a tavern with one of his slaves.
Many small mentions of him buying things and getting physically aggressive with his slaves at one point when they got into an argument with him.
Every little story made an impact on her opinion of the young noble. She wanted to meet him again, but the only way she could think would be quite obvious. Because of this, she told Esen’no to have Aiwen continue to follow him to see if they could find a way for a chance meeting to be staged.
She knew that sometimes destiny could happen on its own, but other times it had to be pushed. She knew it was unlikely she could count on him getting lost and turning up at her door a second time.
The office was brightly lit despite the sun having set some time ago. Sitting parallel to his desk, the man's false leg had been removed and was placed on the desk while his remaining foot was being massaged by a beastkin butler who was on his knees.
Sampa had long ago decided to always keep a beastkin under his employ for, if nothing else, massage. In his opinion, they had the ideal mix of strength and a delicate touch for such work. A few who were especially skilled could even utilize their claws, scale, or fur to do the job even better. This of course varied between the different types of beastkin's, but with only a few exceptions they were his ideal type of person for the job.
This was the moment that a light knocking in a specific pattern was heard at his door. A few seconds after it ended there was one more soft hit.
“Enter,” Sampa said as he looked down at the butler working with his foot, “You may retire for the night Chelin. And you may sleep in as late as you desire. I heard you coughing earlier and don’t want you to get to sick to work in the long run.”
The butler rose to his feet and offered to help put the false leg on, but was told it wouldn’t be necessary. He left the room shortly after another entered it. An older looking woman who was, rather than wearing maid attire like she normally would, was in clothing more fit to one who had neither riches nor status. It was the outfit of a woman working a more typical job and not under such a rich man.
Upon the older human woman entering she did a light curtsey to her employer.
“Don’t worry about that tonight Peridist, I’m too tired for formality just tell me what you three found out.”
Nodding at the chair opposite Sampa, Peridist waited for a wave of approval for her to sit before she did so, taking out a small paper scroll.
“This is what we have on this Victor person your niece has told us about. It is just cursory information as we only found him two days ago.”
Sampa nodded and waved his hand, taking his false leg and working to put it on his stump.
“Before we start should I have him killed?”
Peridist shook her head, “I… or I should say we have seen no reason to take such dramatic actions sir. Especially since your title is gone and it opens you to greater risks to do such things without that extra bit of social security.”
After reattaching his leg, Sampa turned his chair and took a small knife and a pair of scissors before also taking out a small wooden bowl. Holding the bowl under his face as he started to groom his facial hair, utilizing a small mirror on his desk.
“Glad to hear it. I would rather keep him as a motivation for Ruuz. She seems to really want to see him once she gets approval to leave the house.”
“First, I must know has he told anyone about her? Then you may tell me whatever additional information you have gathered.”
Watching her employer working on his grooming Peridist nodded her head once.
“Nobody has mentioned him talking about Ruuz at all so far. While it is possible there was mention before we found him there seems to be no mention of her yet. If he is not talking about her and nobody around him seems to be as well there is no reason to suspect that he has mentioned it. Of course, that isn’t verifying that he hasn’t. Just that so far it seems quite unlikely.”
Sampa nodded his head once, “Continue.”
“Of course,” Preidist replied.
She went on to describe basic details including physical appearances of him and all three of his slaves. She mentioned the place he was staying at as well as the fact that he was doing a little work for the guild. While she admitted it could be a ruse he was likely ranked red due to not working with others to take requests above his rank.
“He does seem to have a solid mind on him. He has been seen doing financial calculations when buying a mix of products. He does it faster than I have seen most people manage. I suspect he is either an academic or at least someone with natural intellect. Possibly both since even lower class people sometimes go to proper schooling if they can gather the funds or get a sponsor.”
“Yet he is not working for anyone specifically?”
“Correct,” Peridist confirmed, “We got information from another person that he seems to be from another land. Also, he seems unable to read anything and has his female slave do the reading for him. If he is from another land it means he might just not be familiar with our script. With his numerical knowledge, I suspect it’s true since he was able to do some calculations that would even give some of your staff pause.”
“Someone smart enough to manage that would likely know at least one form of reading and writing.”
Sampa thought about everything he had been told. Setting aside his grooming tools he twisted a few hairs of his beard back and forth for a little before he came to a conclusion.
“I want someone to watch him. You can take shifts and report only information that is worth something. I don’t want meal reports or anything along those lines. If my niece is interested in him that alone is enough, but if he is from another land he might hold knowledge or creativity in magic we don’t have here.”
“Information is worth more than anything else and that’s why it must always be controlled. Especially when it’s rare.”
“And if he does something that puts lady Ruuz at risk sir?”
Thinking about the question Sampa leaned back in his chair, “Get him into location eighteen. Do that by bribery, blackmail, or just abduction but do it. From there I will talk to him. That is of course only if there is a risk to anyone in this house. I don’t wish to break a ladder while standing on it.”
“Of course sir. Anything else.”
Sampa looked at the maid a moment, “I think not. Ruuz is doing well at proving a high level of skill thanks to her previous studies, but if she starts to slack off mention that this Victor is staying in the capital and if she is good we might allow her an outing or a visitation. Oh and see what sort of person he finds attractive if possible. We can see if we have someone that’s to his taste in our employ to make him more at ease if he does visit.”
“Of course sir. May I retire?”
Waving his hand he told her she could leave and returned to some paperwork regarding the upcoming tournament. With his status as a noble rescinded, he thought it was time to hire a few people who entered the tournament. Specifically, those who got far or had a form of magic that caught his attention. Those he had hired were good, but he wanted someone at his side at all times and would prefer for someone to protect his daughter. Especially someone he wouldn't mind sacrificing if needed.
After all, you never let anyone kill your horse best unless you have a better one ready to replace it. Unless, of course, the horse is only labeled as the best.