“Excuse me, could I take a look at that sword there?... Hello?”
“Oh, my apologies, which sword did you want?”
Two women were talking with each other, both of them were wearing glasses. One of them was wearing a somewhat intricate-looking uniform that made her look like a maid from an Aristocat's house. The other lady was wearing hardened leather armor and had protruding ears which were synonymous with a member of a beast tribe.
The girl from the beast tribe looked at the short sword that she was handed. There was a string attachment at the hilt that she had never seen before in any other store. A piece of paper was glued to this string, on it was the description of what this magical item was. Normally the shops didn't go into this much detail about their wares and a person needed to ask the clerk for a full description.
“I see that you have noticed it already, each item is categorized and also has a short description, if you decide on a purchase we also include a small instruction manual.”
The girl in the leather armor looked over the weapon and the description. On the small piece of paper, it said that this weapon was an Aether Deepsteel shortsword, with a dual runic enchantment.
“Yes, you will find a few helpful tips on how to use the enchantment effectively, with your purchase you will also be given a token, you can then redeem it for one free repair of the runic enchantment!”
The girl that looked like an adventurer started looking at the sword while the lady behind the counter continued to talk. After a moment she put the sword away, it also noticed a rather large beast that was covered in gems was looking at her. The moment she raised the sword in the air the monster continued to stare.
“Thank you, I’ll have to think about it…”
The person from the beast tribe bowed her head but it didn’t seem that she would be buying this weapon.
“Oh, could I interest you in a pamphlet then? It will clue you in on the current prices!”
“Really? Then I shall take one… if it’s free that is.”
The girl chuckled while the lady behind the counter nodded and brought over some papers. On it were drawings of some weapons with prices next to them. Soon the girl adventurer removed herself from the store, the door that opened up automatically was also something that piqued her interest.
‘Wayland’s Runic Emporium? I should probably report this to the lord.’
The girl in leather armor took the glasses off that were in actuality a special high level detection tool. Thanks to it she was able to go through the strange runic store. Her name was Mary and she spent the last week investigating this new city called Albrook.
Her days were spent scouring the area for potential points of interest for her lord Arthur. She went to obvious locations like the dwarven union headquarters and the town hall. There she investigated everything mostly from the eye of the commoner.
At nights she visited taverns and even made her way into the red light district. She knew ways to make people talk via some special skills that she picked up in her life. With a combination of them and alcohol, it wasn’t that hard to make the people talk about the topic that she was interested in.
When they lost their inhibitions the information that she received was mostly the truth. But everyone had their own angle, so there were some contradicting topics. One of them was the town runesmith who was somewhat an oddball.
The people from the dwarven union and the merchant faction seemed to have it out for him. From what she knew it was a long-lasting feud that not many were informed about. All of the conflicting rumors caused Mary quite a headache so she had to see if this runesmith was really the bastard that the dwarven union painted him out to be.
Her first run-in with the man was not in his store or smithy, it was actually during some strange dispute over an orphanage. The glasses that she was wearing were some high quality goods but even with them, his status page was some kind of jumbled-up mess. Besides his level that was close to 120, she couldn’t really pick up anything substantial.
The problem there was that it went against one of her strength-measuring skills. It told her that the man was not that simple and he should be far over that level, not quite tier 3 but somewhat above what she would expect from a tier 2 runesmith.
She could only speculate on the cause but for now, she decided to go back to the lord’s estate. The time was up and she needed to make a report to her master. As she went back the busy city became apparent to her.
While it looked fine on the outside after spending a week in disguise she could see the looming shadow over it. The report would not be a good one as the city was already being ravaged by a couple of powerful organizations from within.
From her perspective, there were a couple of options that her lord could go with. One would be to remain passive and just accept the current power structure. His position would probably be secured and the powers within wouldn’t see him as much of a problem.
This was the safest route from which he could probably expect some good hush money. With time this could develop further but he wouldn’t really gain much true power from this approach, besides lining his pockets with money which he could somewhat use to gain some power. But power gained only through money was quite shallow in her opinion.
All the current rich merchants would still be the ones in charge while he just received bribes to make it easier for them. This would also force him to be lenient with those greedy lot, covering for their misgivings if they ever got caught which could lower his standing in the eyes of the commoners.
The other option would be the more combative one where he took a more just approach. This meant rejecting the proposals that could gain him a lot of money but the ire of others. In favor of furthering the trust with the people, he might have to get on the bad side of the current overlords of the city.
But Mary didn’t really care either way, if her master decided to take the easy route it was fine. With enough money, he might even be able to bribe enough people to set his mother free from her prison. Then all of them could just leisurely spend their lives here.
Thus she returned to the lord's mansion before she could enter through there appeared a bit of a problem.
Mary was still a new face around here and she made a quick getaway the moment they arrived. No one besides the two personal guards that they took from the main house knew who she was. Due to this, the group of guards that were at the entrance saw her as nothing more than someone that was here to cause some trouble.
“As I have explained, I’m Lord Arthur’s personal maid…”
It was no use, the guards weren’t letting her through. The replacement maid that she procured for the lord had been already working for a week. It also didn’t help that she purposely sneaked out during the night without anyone noticing.
‘I guess it can’t be helped...’
Without wanting to cause a scene she decided to wait for nightfall. Arthur, her lord, was probably busy with work so it would be impossible to reach him at the moment. The easiest way would be to wait and sneak back in.
Without a proper light system in the city, the mansion wasn’t lit that well. The guards were left with magical lanterns or torches which they used to patrol the premises. There were quite a lot of them but for someone like her, there were enough blindspots to make her way in.
After waiting for the proper moment she made her way past the wall. Her footsteps remained silent as she ran right up the three-meter tall obstacle and quickly jumped into some nearby bushes.
Mary’s form was covered head to toe in black, only her eyes were peeking out through her new set of clothes that she changed into. This special gear made maneuvering in the dark quite easy, blending into the night was somewhat of a specialty of the class that she picked up.
While true invisibility and merging her being with the shadows was not possible yet if she ever managed to reach tier 3 of this class it would be possible. There were other classes with abilities like this but for espionage and sneaking around hers was the best-suited one.
The guards that she passed by had no ability to detect her. Even if they had guard dogs that could pick up on various new scents, she had none that they could pick up on. Within a few minutes, she made her way towards one of the windows. Her body contorted like a pretzel as she slid in through one that seemed too small for a person to fit in.
‘They there are…’
As she was making her way through the ceiling she spotted one of her friends that was together with someone she didn’t recognize. It was impossible for both of the knights to be the only ones remaining by Arthur’s side. They were still only human and needed to sleep, it seemed that for now, they partnered up with some other guards while keeping one of them by the lord's side at all times.
Without bothering the guards she made it around the corner as she headed for her own little room. Thanks to being the lord’s personal maid she received one room for herself and it came with a key. Inside she found a change of clothes along with some of her personal belongings that she left a week ago.
After taking a look into the mirror she decided to leave. She knew her young lord’s wishes and that he would probably want to get a report before the day ended. Now when she was properly dressed as a maid, the guards didn’t seem to mind.
‘A bit sloppy…’
She thought after smiling at a guard duo that was patrolling the inside of the mansion. If she was an actual assassin who came to take the lord’s life it didn’t seem that there would be much of a problem.
“Who goes there!”
“It is me, Sir Gareth.”
Gareth, one of the knights, was quick to react when he saw her approaching from afar. The other guards didn’t seem to notice even though she was not trying to actively hide her presence.
Even the tray with snacks and tea that she was holding didn’t seem to make any noise.
“Everyone stand down, it’s the young lord's personal maid. Mary, the lord has been waiting for you, what took you so long?”
The other guards were quick to raise their spears but quickly looked at the woman before them. Being something like a personal maid brought some prestige with itself, so the men here closely looked at her face to engrain it. If they ever did something to the maid, it could bring the ire of the lord at them.
“Oh you know… this and that, why were you worried about little ol’ me? Well, isn't that cute.”
Mary gave Gareth a wink which caused the man to recoil. The other two guards that were with him were smitten by the sensual look but their leader seemed to know something more. After a moment Mary was at the door knocking, only when Arthur’s voice sounded from within did she answer.
“Yes? Who is it?”
“It’s me, my lord.”
“Mary? Please enter.”
Soon the maid made her way inside of the room. While the other two guard’s imaginations were going wild, Gareth knew about this maid’s true nature. To them, it looked like a nightly visit from a beautiful maid but to him, it was just more worries.
“You took your time Mary.”
“I must apologize, my lord, I will accept any punishment you may deem fitting.”
Mary lowered her head after entering through the door. There she saw a somewhat tired-looking young man that was surrounded by various notes and books. It was clear that he continued to work diligently through this week.
“Mary please, I’m not in the mood for your games.”
Arthur looked back at the girl with the cat ears, they were bright red but not as red as her eyes were. The young man turned from his seat while rubbing his tired eyes, it was clear that he was in no mood for pleasantries.
Mary on the other hand couldn’t help from giggling. She did love to see Arthur working hard as it was one of the reasons that she decided to come here with him. The young man was quite pure in his convictions and was also not scared to work to make things a reality.
“Would you like some tea? It’s my special brew. It will help wake you up!”
Arthur glanced at the tray that Mary was holding. On it, he could see some biscuits and dark tea. Without a second thought, he nodded his head as getting something to wake him up would be appreciated. After taking a few sips from the somewhat bitter concoction he started feeling his mind becoming clearer.
“What did you find, don’t spare the details…”
What ensued was over an hour of her report. She informed Arthur about the power structure of Albrook city that was mostly ruled by the rich merchants and craftsmen. The Dwarven union came up quite a bit, thanks to there being so many adventurers in this city, they were making most of the profit.
“Crafty dwarves, with the dungeon here they are practically monopolizing the market.”
As it was clear that the driving force behind this city were the adventurers, the people that provided them with weapons would prosper. Then there were the alchemists that controlled the vast potion market. But due to the adventurer guild already providing this service in-house, they weren’t profiting as much as the dwarves.
Potions could be easily transported from city to city without the need of large shops to display them. The adventures also bought them in bulk which lowered the price margin. Even with that, they were part of the prominent players in the city.
Then there was the more murky element in the city, the thieves guild. Mary was able to pay it a visit to figure out that they were the ones controlling the red-light district. Drugs and aphrodisiacs were some of the many forbidden items that they offered there.
“That does seem like a problem…”
Arthur received the whole report and now it was already quite late. One part of it all was the intelligence gathering that Mary performed but only after confirming it with the records that he went through could Arthur paste it together.
“It seems that most of the officials are receiving some ‘donations’ “
Arthur went through a large chunk of transactions and disputes that previously went through the city. In them he found that whenever a person from the merchant guild or dwarven union was involved, the decision always went their way, it was almost unanimous. Such a result was only possible if one side was getting favored.
“Yes, I’ve met some of the old residents in the city, a lot of them had lost their old homes if they were close to the merchant district.”
The merchant district was recently created, it was mostly populated by stores and taverns. It was made to house these wandering money makers and offer them a good time. The previous residents were mostly bought out or found themselves disappearing under murky circumstances.
“Though my lord, this isn’t anything surprising, isn’t this how it always goes when a new dungeon gets discovered? The rich get richer while the poor... Well, that is that one strange person though.”
“Ah yes, you have mentioned him a couple of times, Wayland was it?”
Mary nodded while clapping with her hands, her tail started wiggling about which indicated to Arthur that she was somewhat excited. If his maid was acting this way, it meant that this person named Wayland was someone that he should watch out for.
“Come to think of it… I think a package arrived today... “
Arthur looked to the side, there a small pile of presents of various sizes was stashed for safekeeping. The merchants and influential people had sent him presents that he didn’t have time to go through but now after hearing the explanation from his maid, he was interested in the latest one that was delivered in a large wooden crate...