A note from UnstoppableJuggernaut

Hello everybody and thank you for your support!

Today I'd like to shoutout the amazon release of The Menocht Loop by Caerulex! You should definitely check it out because it's a...timeloop story. I love those myself.

Also I finished Arcane. I'll write more about it soon but for now? Absolutely recommended. I LOVED it. 

Alrighty, welcome back to Fool and let's get on with it!

The City Hall of Generasi—seat of the ruling council of wizards and their vast bureaucracy—was enormous. It was an absolute monument to the power and advanced level of the ‘City at the Center of Creation’.

Rising hundreds of feet in the air, its main dome—carved from a single slab of marble that must have been magically conjured and carved—spread wide enough to contain an entire city block. Perched on square columns rising beside four ‘corners’ of the dome, were gigantic, painted statues of dragons.

Each was different.

To the north was a black-scaled dragon with four legs, horns and bat-wings. To the east, a golden, serpentine one with short legs, long whiskers and horns like a crown. Alex remembered seeing similar dragons on some of the old objects that the Lu’s stored in their attic.

On the southern column was an even longer legless serpent that coiled around the column. Feathered wings spread from its back.

Khalik nudged him. “That looks a lot like the dragon I once saw,” he said quietly. “…though the statue is smaller.”

Alex whistled.

The western dragon looked a lot like a giant hunting cat with golden scales, elk-like antlers, and a long, snaking tail.

Below the dome, the building spread out for blocks. Messenger constructs flew to and from small windows in a swarm of shimmering metal, while flying wizards—on sky-gondolas, sky-boats, flying carpets, brooms or just flying along—entered the building through a great stone docking bay, protected from the elements by an overhang with a host of gargoyles clinging to its sides.

Alex blinked.

Did…did one of those gargoyles move?

“It’s huge!” Selina said, absolutely delighted at the architecture. “You could fit our whole town in there!”

“You couldn’t fit all of Alric in there,” Theresa said. “Just…a lot of it. By every god in the world, do they really need all this space to run the city?”

“In Tekezash, much of the royal and courtly work is handled within the palace, Khalik said quietly. “And it is immense, though not quite so big; I can imagine an entire city of wizards would have many more, and many different concerns than a regular government for a mortal realm would. Look at how busy the sky above is. The officials here would have a responsibility to decide pathways for air traffic safety, something a mortal realm would not.”

He glanced at his shoulder and noticed Najyah staring at a nearby wizard’s familiar: a very fat duck. The giant eagle looked ready to pounce.

Khalik gave her a disapproving look. “…or even what is to be done when one wizard’s familiar eats another! Come, you naughty bird! Before you get us all thrown into the local prison!”

Alex glanced at Khalik.

He wondered where Wizard Prison actually was, if there was such a thing, and how they would keep a wizard locked up if one didn’t want to be. It sounded like a place to be curious about…from a safe distance.

What he was glad to see from up close was the interior of City Hall. He’d learned at the church school that Uldar’s main cathedral was a wondrous place dedicated in the highest honour to Thameland’s god, though he’d never seen it himself. His teachers had talked about studying there among statues of past Saints and Heroes positioned along walls covered in holy murals that spread onto the ceiling.

Clearly, the architects here had a similar idea when they were creating Generasi’s City Hall, except they’d used a lot more magic, and a lot less restraint. Murals covered the walls and ceiling, and some of them were actually moving.

There was a ceiling mural of wizards forming a circle and all of their heads faced toward the centre whichlooked like the sun with the alchemical symbol for mana in the middle.

The building’s towering walls had scenes of triumphs from Generasi’s history, including one of Noarc triumphantly conjuring rain to defeat the drought. Dozens of different languages filled the air, and Alex found that he was able to understand more of some of them than he used to. His progress had been slower for some languages than he would’ve liked because his time had been limited, but gradually, he'd become pretty comfortable in a few of them, especially Rhinean. More would come later.

“This place is so pretty!” Selina said, her eyes as wide as saucers. “I wanna know how they built it!”

“Maybe they’ll teach you that in class, or maybe they have information available for the public here.” Khalik chuckled, looking around. “And I thought our school was a maze.”

He approached a guard who gave them directions to The Office of Bounties and Hunts, as well as a small booklet with the history of City Hall for Selina.

A few long halls later they entered a soaring chamber with a series of brass signs rotating in mid-air in the centre of the room, while a large group of armed folk read the signs intently. In the back was a massive stone topped desk that filled the entire width of the room, supported by what looked like the bones of giant monsters. The desk was staffed by workers focused on paperwork. One was in the middle of a discussion with a lean, vicious looking warrior. Floating in a transparent sphere beside him was the head of some kind of monster with green scales like a fish, and the mouth of a lamprey.

After a little more conversation, the staff member handed the bounty hunter a large sack that he held close to his ear and shook. It jingled even above the conversation filling the room as the pair shook hands and a grin spread across the hunter’s face.

Alex’s nostrils had flared when his group had stepped through the door. There were a lot of people standing in line beside floating monster parts—heads, claws or other proof they would need to collect their bounty—that were displayed in spheres. With all the monster parts in the room, Alex would’ve expected a stench to fill the air, but there were no bad odours, none at all. He supposed that any office in a bureau of wizards that dealt with dead things all day, would have some magical means of keeping the air fresh, for everyone’s sake.

Some of the monster hunters turned, looking at the newcomers and parting as they and the enormous Claygon stepped through the crowd.

From what Alex had learned, bounties and requests for hunts were filed with the bureau here. The government provided a reward, depending on what sort of monster that was reported as being a danger to the community, and sometimes, individuals would add to the bounty. Alex wasn’t really hoping for a fortune here.

Higher bounties were rare and were usually offered for stronger monsters, which he had no interest in going after, since he wasn’t interested in being killed. He just wanted to go ‘hunting’ with his girlfriend, not ‘die immediately’.

He looked at the rotating signs, then at the desk again.

“Strange that we didn’t come here for the mana vampire bounty,” Alex noted.

“Oh, that was you?” a voice said.

Alex looked over and saw…nothing.

“Down here, friend.”

Alex slowly lowered his head and was a little startled.

He used to think that Kybas was tiny, but this…monster hunter was even shorter, perhaps only two and a half feet tall at most. His face had a bit of an elven shape—with the sharp features, large eyes and cheekbones—but they were much sharper, almost like they’d been carved. His ears were far longer too, maybe adding another quarter foot to his tiny stature.

He also moved strangely…almost too smoothly, like he was more of an animated construct of water than a person. Alex blinked, remembering an entry in his magic lore textbook: about a near-mortal fey race called ‘swiftlings’. Very short, but quicker than the wind.

“Uh, hello,” Alex said. “Uh yeah, that was me…and my friends.”

“Well that’s swell, and damned lucky,” the little fellow ran his fingers through his blonde hair. “You’re younger than I would’ve imagined. But maybe that big golem helped? The name’s Ripp.”

“Alex.” He bent down and shook the swiftling’s tiny hand.

“But yeah, there’s different desks in City Hall for paying out bounties. For bigger ones, you usually go someplace different since that means counting out more coin, and so things slow down.”

“Yeah, I guess that makes sense,” Alex said. “So, Ripp, are you looking for a bounty?”

“Yes indeeder,” he said, looking up at the rotating signs. “Just brought in a pretty big one and got paid, so I want to take another bounty before I go.”

“There’s more than I thought there would be,” Alex said.

“What bounties, or people?”

“Uh, both.”

“Not surprising, either way. Lots of magic in the air means there’s always something to be captured, exterminated or driven off. Especially in early summer: most things have just finished breeding and are off feeding and growing, or looking for territory. And there’s more of us around than usual, on account of the mana vampire. But since you and company took it off the market, hunters are doing a few jobs to build up some coin before they sail off elsewhere. Mostly to Thameland, even though I hear things might be brewing west and south.”

“Right…” Alex said. It would make sense that mercenaries and monster hunters would go to Thameland, he realized. Funny, that never seemed to be mentioned in the history books either.

“So what’re you thinking?” Ripp asked Alex. “Gonna go for some big prey? There’s no bounty as big as the mana vampire, but some ships say they heard beautiful singing coming from some of the islands to the west. The shipping authority wants it investigated. They think it might be sirens, so they’re offering a bounty of ten gold per head if it is.”

“What’re sirens?” Alex asked.

“They’re monsters that look like birds with big, scaly feet and the faces of some of the most beautiful women you’d ever see. Their singing bewitches sailors and lures them close to the rocks to crash their ships, then they go out and eat the poor devils while they’re drowning.”

“Oh…” Alex shuddered. “I can see why the shipping authority would want them gone.”

“Yes indeeder, so if there’s a flock of six or so, you make a little more than half of what you’d get for a mana vampire. But, maybe that’s not such a thrill for you.”

Alex frowned. “Ten gold per head…I guess that means they’re not super dangerous if the bounty’s so much less than for a mana vampire.”

Ripp’s eyes went wide. “Oh no, my friend. Don’t ever think that. Bounty’s not only decided by danger, it’s also decided by demand. You could get a bounty of a hundred gold coins on an ordinary muupkara if it happened to kill a noble's prized horse. Lots of hunters have gotten hurt or dead from looking at a sign and going, ‘low bounty means easy’.”

Alex winced. That made sense. Baelin would’ve been so disappointed in him right now. “Yeah, so then how do you pick contracts, and would you mind giving me some pointers on how to do it?”

“Oh yeah, I’m not sore about competition ‘cos there’s plenty of work to go-around since there’s always some wizard looking for this part or that. What I’d say is, think about your talents and strengths and go after what you figure you’d be good against.”

“Ah yeah,” Alex nodded. “Of course.”

That sounded like advice Baelin would give. He wondered how many people who hunted and killed monsters for a living ended up doling out the same advice. If he kept on hunting things, would he end up being the one handing out similar advice one day?

“Thanks for the help,” Alex said. “Let me buy you a drink some time.”

“Oh, why thanks,” Ripp said, a little surprised.

“Hey, you gave me advice that might save my life one day, the least I can do is buy you a cup of wine…or beer or something.”

The swiftling smiled. “Well, looks like we’ve got manners. If we meet again here, I’ll take you up on that. Right-o, and keep this in mind. Before you accept a contract from anyone offering you one, ask if they’re also offering a reward. Some folks offer coin on top of the bounty from the city. Negotiate hard if they do, and make sure they pay you. If they find one soft monster hunter, then they’ll think we all work cheap.”

For a moment, Alex remembered Professor Mangal’s talk about fey magic and promises. He hadn’t been planning on skipping out on his offer, but he made a promise not to forget about his word to buy Ripp a drink.

Glancing up at the signs, Alex went through each of the contracts, trying to find a sweet spot between something that would pay well, and something that’d be a good fit for his and Theresa’s skills.

He disregarded anything that involved the sea since he didn’t own a boat, and even if he had, it certainly wouldn’t have been a big enough one to hold Claygon.

He kept scanning the postings and...

Then he came across it.

Holding up his hand and reaching for the sign, he watched it float down.

Wanted: A fiendish creature is killing pigs and cracking the hives of the beekeepers of the Nobildonna Moggi. Strong presence of wasps. Vespara suspected.

Bounty: 30 gold coins for the head or wings of the creature, or some other body part if the creature proves to be something else.

Inquire at the Nobildonna’s estate for more information. Note that monster hunters should have a record of success, or a reference from a wizard of repute, or a member of the nobility.

He’d have to work for ten shifts to match the bounty on this monster’s head, and he had both a record of kills, and a potential reference if he needed one.

The bounty sounded quite good.

“What’s this?” Theresa sidled up beside him. “A Vespara?”

“Kind of a wasp-humanoid thing,” Alex said, recalling a page from magic lore. “Hijacks control of wasp’s nests and makes them do its bidding. It can make the wasps grow a lot bigger than normal, and the thing’s elusive and hard to track.”

“Yech, you don’t want that one,” Ripp said. “Swarms are a pain.”

“You want it?” Alex looked at Theresa.

Theresa gave a vicious smile. “Sounds like a challenge.”

Alex glanced at Claygon, noting the fire-gems.

“I don’t think swarms are going to be a problem,” he said to Ripp, preparing to take the sign to register it at the desk so they could contact the client.

And so, that was part one of the date arranged. This weekend, they would head to the estate and go on a little hunt. The evening before, though, Alex had a different plan.

He glanced at the bag hanging from his forceball.

In there was a notebook.

In that notebook was a page with a new title:

Super Awesome Date Plan That Cannot Possibly Fail and that The Ravener itself Could Not Ruin.

Alex would make Theresa an incredible dessert in the morning, then they’d go to one of the fanciest restaurants on campus for supper. Afterwards, they’d have a picnic by the sea and enjoy the dessert together. He’d spent a few hours thinking about and planning everything out, trying to account for potential problems.

‘I got this,’ he thought.

‘I in no way got this!’ he screamed mentally as he looked in dismay at the catastrophe that was the insula’s kitchen.

Batter was everywhere.

A note from UnstoppableJuggernaut

Not going to lie, next chapter has one of my favourite sequences in all of Fool so far.

Can't wait until tomorrow. Alrighty, folks I'll seeya then!

Big thanks to all my readers—I appreciate each and every one of you—and a very special thanks to my patrons on my Patreon

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