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“Pureblood or Bastard, sir?”

“I beg your pardon?!”

The customer, an obese, sweaty fop slammed his hand, heavy with gem encrusted rings, onto the counter, nearly knocking over a stack of brochures.

“As I said, is the Princess a Pureblood, or a Bastard?”

With my best smile, I leaned back slightly, trying to avoid the flying sweat droplets. This only seemed to make the fop angrier.

“To, to dare insinuate that the Noble Princess is anything but Pureblooded, I will have your head for this insult against her majesty!!”

“I wasn’t implying anything, customer.” I replied, tapping the paper set on the desk before me. “To ensure that the Princess receives the best care possible, it is imperative that I can accurately ascertain her bloodline status. Now, if you would please just answer the question and we can move on to the next section.”

The fop, grinding his teeth, flopped back into his chair. It made an ominous creaking noise, and I considered billing him for the repairs after this was over.

“Pureblood. And I expect you to address me properly! I am Duke Demaria, second in command to the mighty Kingdom of Elderyore! I am not just another ‘customer’!”

“Of course, esteemed Duke.” I ticked a box, stifling my yawn. It wouldn’t do to lose such a big fish because I was up too late throwing sharps. I turned the sheet over to the final page, the bottom half obscured by a rudimentary magic circle.

“Now, marvelous Duke, if you will just choose a package option, we can sign the contract and begin operations.”

Duke Demaria’s eyes narrowed, and his gaze flickered to the paper.

“What package?! I just want the Princess back as soon as possible!”

I nodded along sagely, taking a note down on a separate notepad.

“Very well, I shall put you down for the Expedited Rescuing Service. And I presume that you will also be wanting the Dream Luxury Service as well? For a small additional fee, we can help alleviate some of the… tensions… that can come with being kidnapped.”

“Fine, I’ll take it. Only the best for the Nobles of Elderyore!”
“Ah, then I shall put you down for the Diamond Membership Club. That will ensure that not only our best Rescuers will be on the case, but you will also enjoy a wide variety of perks and amenities at any participating branch across the continent.”

The duke’s gaze somehow narrowed even further, but I could sense the pleasure I was feeling from him loud and clear.

“That sounds like the treatment I should have been receiving from the start! Sign me up for this Diamond-whatever immediately!”

Bowing my head, I began to compile his order, stacking the papers orderly, with the magic circle page placed on top. Sliding it to the other side of the table, along with a pen and inkwell, I spoke.

“If that is all, indefatigable Duke, then I will bid you sign your name inside the circle.”

Duke Demaria picked up the pen and carelessly dipped, adding ink to the many other fluids present. With a casual scrawl, he scratched out some words before tossing the implement aside. As I met his triumphant gaze, I gave him my most genuine smile yet.

“It appears that you have an account on file, so we will begin drawing funds immediately. In the meantime, would you be interested in purchasing one of our Princess Warranties? For less than twenty gold dragons, you can insure your Princess for up to three fortnights after date of rescue. They’re one of our most popular products for repeat customers!”

The duke stroked his chin, pretending to be in deep thought. I ducked my head slightly to avoid showing off the greed sparkling in my eyes. I had him right where I wanted.

-0-

It wasn’t until much later that Duke Demaria would emerge from the upper floor and swagger-waddle his way back to his carriage outside. I sent him off at the door and waved politely to the carriage drivers as they trotted off. As far as good feelings go, there were few I liked more than successfully and legally stealing a good chunk of a pricks treasure vault. Sure, it was less romantic than planning a daring heist on a reinforced keep, but it paid about as well, and I didn’t have to work evenings and weekends.

Returning to the main counter, I tossed the bundle of paperwork onto the desk and gave Paul a slap on the back.

“Read em’ and weep, sucker. Looks like the office pool is mine this week.”

Paul rubbed his shoulder, a hurt look on his face. But it didn’t fool me. As a retired silver adventurer, there was little short of a cannon blast that could cause him to feel physical pain. Emotional pain, on the other hand, I saw all too well as his eyes flicked across the terms and conditions at superhuman speeds. Groaning, he set the pile down and buried his face in his arms.

“Shiiiit. Here I was hoping I’d win for once and finally be able to retire. That luck of yours just doesn’t quit.”

I scoffed, cocking a hip as I leaned over the counter.

“What luck? This is all skill baby. And don’t be such a downer. If you want to retire so bad, go kill a few manticores or something to push you over to gold rank. That’s a nice little nest egg right there.”

“Just a few manticores huh? Oh yeah, I’ll just pop over to the nest and ask politely. ‘Excuse me, Mr. Manticore? Would you kindly give me your head? Pretty Please?’”

“Well, there’s no need to get dramatic about it. All I’m saying is—”

“Paul, Rico!”

A light voice rang out from upstairs.

“Get your asses in here! We have a situation!”

“” On it, Boss!!””

Paul and I respond in tandem. When the boss asked you to do something on the clock, you better get it done sharp-like. All joviality is lost as we double-time it up the steps, round the corner and stop on a dime, saluting sharply and being very careful to keep our eyes fixed straight ahead. The boss got testy if we didn’t follow proper procedure. The woman in question carefully surveyed us before passing judgement.

“Sit.”

“Yes, Boss!”

The plain wooden seats were lackluster compared to the plush armchair positioned across from us, but I knew better than to call attention to it. I ran through her profile in my head. Carmine Boss was the guilds most recent acquisition. The youngest daughter of the Black Diamond Warrior, a legend in his time and one of the founders of the PRL, she was not content to live off her father’s fame and fortune. Through some sycophantic method, she weaseled her way into the guild leader’s position, quietly disposing of the old leader. Though there was no concrete proof she was involved, the circumstances of his death were suspicious, to say the least.

“… Rico. How did the deal with the duke go?”

I gulped. Carmine was currently unaware of the arrangements I had made with the former guild leader, and I wanted to keep it that way.

“Satisfactorily.” I replied, hyper conscious of the twenty gold dragons weighing down my coin purse.

“He was a troublesome customer, but I’ve dealt with worse.”

“Mmhm. And Paul, how is the demographic information coming along.”

As Paul began to talk, I relaxed slightly, doing my best to keep my expression neutral. I was fairly certain Carmine suspected something was off, but the branch office was critically short staffed. Regardless of how much I was skimming off the top, my numbers were still the highest in the entire district. As I was musing, my thoughts were brought to a halt with the end of Paul’s presentation.

“Thank you, Paul. Now then, I have some bad news to share with you two.”

Carmine paused for effect, a frown stretching her pale face.

“The branch is going to be closed down. We have until the Spring Festival to complete all outstanding requests and sort our finances out.”

I could feel my vision shaking. This could not be happening. Not now. I was so close!

“Both of your jobs will be terminated, and you can claim your final pay and any additional compensation at that time.”

Paul’s voice sounded distorted in my ears, as my hands tightened around the chair arms.

“Rico.”

Why did it come to this? I knew for sure that I was bringing in enough money to keep the branch afloat. Just one more year, and I would have had enough—

“Rico!”

I jerked towards the sound.

“Are you listening to me, Rico?”

I gasped, out of breath.

“Yes, yes. Loud and clear Boss.”

Carmine gave me a withering look before returning to her sulk, meticulously inspecting her nails on her left hand.

“I suspect that this is the work of one of my siblings, trying to push me out of the way of the inheritance. Everything was looking fine until I received a letter this morning from HQ, telling me that due to lack of requests there was no need for further operating costs. I’ll fly over personally tomorrow to try and negotiate, but don’t hold your breath.”

She gave me and Paul a last look before dismissing us with a wave.

As we descended the staircase, our eyes met, and we spoke in unison.

“I’ll ask my contacts at the guild.”

“I’ll check in with my old friends underground.”

Our arms met in a hearty slap.

“” Let’s get this bastard.””

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Taiyo Rio

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