“Sid’s forge let’s go!” Ellis had her hands around the wisteria sword in its sheath. She had chosen this sword for obvious reasons. It was thin, fluid like a rapier, yet had the sturdiness of a great sword. Also, the purplish sublime refraction to it caught her eye.
“Do you think Tia’s in?” The large Maverick spellbook had now shrunk to the size of a small notebook, incredibly convenient to carry. However, it didn’t seem to ‘click’ with Curtis like how his current spellbook did.
An anvil sign hanging above a store, this time with ‘Sid’s Forge’, bold letters etched into it. Its sign properly letting customers know that it was, closed.
What greeted them wasn’t a rickety workshop with the smell of gunpowder, but a well-lit interior with a pleasant earthy wooden scent of incense. Under the white lights hanging above, a girl who was sitting behind the counter suddenly jumped onto her two feet and rushed over.
“Curtis! Ellis! Welcome back. How did your trip go? Anything interesting happened? What’s that?” Tia queried, a flash of excitement flickering in her eyes.
“Yes. A lot happened. Ellis almost got killed,” Curtis looked at Ellis with a sideways glance. “And she was sleeping through the whole..”
“Curtis!” Ellis pouted.
Tia laughed. “Really?”
Sid’s forge was a four-part building with the forging area hidden at the back. The storefront was where Curtis, Ellis and Tia were currently in. A small scale training room located at the back of the building had been set up for commissioners to test out their equipment after tinkering. Or, it was quite literally, a place Tia for to wreak havoc.
Sid had about 20 forgers working together with him. Even so, they would struggle at times to keep up with the requests.
The four-part building was connected to Tia’s house on the upper floor.
The current season was inclined towards a slower business. It would happen every year at around this sort of time. At these times, they would put more attention on constructing weapons to be sold at weapon stores across Haital, one of which included the Croquel Guild’s armament store run by George.
Tia was a 16-year-old girl. Her height was just a tad shorter than Ellis’. She had lavender coloured hair tied into a braid, laid across in front.
Her face was puffy, with a rounded chin. Narrow shoulders and lissom body, she looked like an above-average teenage girl.
Tia came into the storefront from the pantry, holding a tray of Earl tea in small white teacups.
“Curtis, about the Jesters..” Tia paused.
“Yes, about the Jester? What about it?” sitting on the couch present, Curtis’ wavy voice came through. Ellis was shaking him by the shoulder, being swung around like her pillow.
“The rumour about infecting other people— that was false info. A total of three people were discovered, currently,” Tia placed the drinks on the low table. Dividing the drink, she took a seat on the opposite side.
“Hm? Thanks,” Curtis looked into the teacup, the aroma of coffee tickled his nose.
“I don’t think there are only three though. That doesn’t explain how they group up in teams of 5 in the first place. No, didn’t they say one?”
“Waawawa,” Ellis finally let go of Curtis. He then ruffled her hair, as a joke in retort. So cute.
“What are you trying to say, Tia?” Curtis glossed over, “Isn’t it an urban legend anyway..”
“The Jesters only consists of mages.” Tia chided, “That was what a friend of mine told me..”
“Just be careful,” Tia’s voice sounded heavy.
Tia then shifted her gaze to look at Ellis who tilted her head.
“What was Ellis begging you to tell her?”
“It’s a secret..” Curtis moved his head slightly.
Ellis then narrowed her eyes at Curtis.
“It’s best if nobody knows..” Drawling, Curtis prepared himself to defend against any possible strangleholds.
Ellis stared even harder. It won’t kill, nor drill a hole into Curtis, so it was, for the most part, safe, probably.
“Couples quarrel,” Tia muttered jokingly under her breath before sipping her tea.
After a while, when their conversation had reached an end, the mood fell a little awkward. It was quiet, with Curtis being in a half pensive state. He wondered why Tia would tell him that the Jesters would only consist of mages?
Tia glanced at Curtis in contemplation, then peeked at Ellis who seemed to not have enough of ‘staring at’ Curtis yet.
It was another minute when the sound of a creaking door broke the silence.
““Sid,”” Ellis and Curtis said in unison.
A tall man walked in from the door behind the counter. He had a large square looking body, broad shoulders and incredible muscles. He wore a white tank top with a short coat over it. His face was covered in sweat while a white towel draped over the back of his shoulders. On his coat and pants dangled forging tools, a small hammer, marker, wrench and many screwdrivers.
His masculine physique only accentuated his charming, handsome face. His gaze was like the waves of cloud cascading the sky, bold and gentle.
“Welcome back Ellis, Curtis. Is there anything—Oh, looks like you have something interesting with you guys today?”
Ellis gazed at Curtis for his consent before passing her Wisteria sword, still covered in the sheath, to Sid.
Sid uncovered the sleek blade under the light. The milk-lavender sword gleamed under the interior lights. He scrutinized the sword from the hilt all the way to the tip of the blade. The thin blade was made up of a constitution of titanium-based alloy, he didn’t think he would need to make any reinforcements to prevent it from snapping.
“I’m surprised you could get your hands on one this. It was definitely made by a master blade forger. Where did you get this?”
“It was a barter trade,” Ellis blurted.
“Spirit essence,” Curtis added.
Sid crooked a smile.
“Spirit essence? Where did you get that from?” Tia almost spilt her tea. Spirit essence was incredibly rare, even rarer than gold, some would say.
“From killing Ellis.”
“But she’s still here?”
“Erm, more specifically, Curtis killed my doppelgänger.”
“Doppelgänger? I thought you could only get Spirit Essence from elemental sprites?”
“Forest Sprites can shape-shift. It was a first for me.”
“Shapeshift huh? So how did you tell the two apart?”
“One sounded like a mortician while the other one was sleeping,” Curtis joked. Ellis gave Curtis a jab in the shoulder. “Sid, I also have a Maverick Spellbook I’d like to attach a 50% purity red crystal too. For Ellis’ sword, could you help attach a 10 slot fusion crystal? And maybe if there are some leftover red crystals pieces, would you mind attaching them to her sword too? Thank you.”
Sid’s smile distorted a little. The most common gryostones were around 25% purity. Finding one above 25% purity was already difficult, and here, Curtis was requesting one with 50% purity? And a red crystal?
His confusion soon cleared up when Curtis handed over the supplies.
“This...” Sid felt something caught up his throat. A Maverick Spellbook, an exceedingly large red crystal and a bottle of Spirit Essence.
An item among them had he only seen in books, and was now before his very eyes—Spirit Essence.
“You can keep the excess Spirit Essence as a gift, just use some to purify the red crystal to 50% purity,” The red crystal was already very pure to begin with, so Curtis expected that there was no need to use a lot of Spirit Essence to refine it further.
“Eh? Wait, Curtis, I thought you gave it all to Sir Dean..”
Sid burst into a haughty laugh. Tia’s mouth was half open, but her reaction was for a different reason. She had forgotten to ask them about their commissions!
“How about 20 gold for the whole package?” Gold, silver and bronze coins were the main currency in the whole of Monarch Empire. The coins were small squares pieces with beautiful flower cut-out in the centre. They were small, and light, easy to carry— easy to lose.
“That’ll do. I’ll take that as the price,” and the savings go down the drain. But well, weapon upgrades were known to be expensive after all.
Tia's eyes turned round, her mouth still agape.
With the orders placed and more meaningless chatters later, Curtis and Ellis left Sid’s forge for the lodging at Croquel.
“Come back in two days, I’ll definitely get it done by then,” Sid had made special arrangements to focus on their commission. With Spirit Essence, he would have to spend some time reviewing old notes and carry out experiments to acquire a better understanding of Spirit Essence. From what he had heard from his teacher before, Spirit Essence was a potent and hard to stabilize material. If it weren’t for that, he could have completed the commissions fairly easily in a single night.
“Boss. It is those two right?” From the shadows, someone asked. Looking down from the roof, his eyes were glued to the two walking down an open alley.
“Yes. Find out the location,” the guy who was the supposed boss felt that something wasn’t right with the way, Dean treated these two inconceivable adventurers. So a spy was arranged in abrupt.
“Got it boss. Leave it to us,”
“Use indirect moves on them. There’s no need for harsh methods all the time,” when the boss finished, the man nodded and leapt into the air, disappearing into the night sky.
The boss continued sitting there, observing the two. He thought that the mage was quite interesting. How could he have never noticed him before? He would certainly make a good asset, that is, if he could be tamed.
Curtis laid on a linen-white queen-sized bed. Staring up at the ceiling, he saw the intricate wooden support beams, etched with patterns of followers and geometric diagrams. A magic lamp stood close to the table and a pair of chairs. From downstairs, he could hear muffled din transmitted from the cafeteria.
The lodging wasn’t too big nor too small. A party of 4 people could squeeze inside this room, what’s more, there was going to be only two people occupying the room, Curtis and Ellis. Two separate beds, table and seats, a small scale washroom, and a closet, perfect for the duo.
The cool breeze blew into the room, making the curtains flutter. The vicinity outside of the guild was dimly lit. The silent hum from the vast expanse beyond the kingdom and flickering stars in the sky above. Not to mention the bazaar, all the lights running in a long stretch as far as one could see.
Curtis had a blank expression.
‘Why did Tia say that?’
Curtis didn’t understand why Tia’s words held so much weight. Were the Jesters, not a rumour?
His thought shifted, replaced by Ellis.
That smile of hers, her cheerful temperament and cute pouting face she would make when she becomes slightly frustrated. He couldn’t part with it. He couldn’t part with her. What’s weirder, he felt oddly uncomfortable being with her now.
Why did he come to like her in the first place? Having known each other for 7 years and stuck together in a party for more than a year now, having not even experienced his first kiss yet, what made him attracted to her? What was making him avoid her?
Curtis stared at the ceiling, feeling his way through his emotions. Ellis had already told him that she would spend some time with Ruth in the bathhouse. Which meant that she would take a while before coming back. This gave Curtis some space, space that he clearly needed.
While planning measures to tackle the mystery behind it, he wondered.
What was Ellis up to anyways?