Having separated myself from my Chosen servant with no small effort – I am now leading the pair of us onward, toward the Adventure's Guild. My mind turning lazy circles around the rather thorny problem she has upturned – or maybe that I have upturned, with the tacit approval that could easily be read from my lack of explicit disapproval of the foolish girls words. My own fault really, so thoroughly losing control of the conversation – I deserve whatever terrible bargain I might have struck.
Which – for better or worse – is no bargain at all. The girl did not present the Crest of her Household alongside her proposal and further, I did not explicitly accept it. In short she did not manage to pry anything binding from me, in the brief moment I was overwhelmed by her – admittedly skillful – verbal maneuvering. I'd thought my heart dead to such things, unable to rise or ripple at the words of lesser creatures …but perhaps deep down I am some sort of romantic? To be seriously offered the world? It tickled me, in a way few things ever have. Not that I intend to marry the girl – that would be …unwise, for reasons more numerous than stars in the sky.
Not that it's impossible. High Demonic society has all the rings and rungs of any other court, that one may jump through, climb, or descend at one's leisure. Including, of course, the rituals to join mating pairs in the eyes of Law and Society – for all the typical reasons. Those reasons being power, mostly, in any of its myriad of forms. In that sense, Pink's stated reasons for her proposition are quite lacking… though perhaps the most blindingly obvious truths need not be spoken aloud? The reason she actually did give – an incomprehensible appeal to emotion – is little more than nonsense from any right-headed perspective. One could argue that in the present situation – with demonic society so reduced – perhaps atypical opinions and methods may come to the fore. A possibility. But…
I look over at her. I mean really look. She is young, even among the ranks of scurrying insects. And she has power, but it is small, a tiny mote – hardly worth acknowledgment, certainly not worth regard. There is blood in her veins, sweat on her brow, food in her belly, she is in many ways a perfect encompassment of mortality. Of life with all its quirks and flaws. Blazing with incomprehensible wants and feelings. Beautiful and ephemeral, and so very …very …fragile… Like a beautiful midmorning haze – destined for obliteration at the uncaring rise of the sun. As I look at her, and she at me, our eyes are level – and yet she is so small.
The gulf that separates us ever yawns wide. It is a simple reality, one I rarely ponder at any length.
Her face flushes a deeper red and she turns away. I blink, brought back to the world around me. We've arrived at the Adventurer's Guild. In a moment of decisiveness, I decide to forego thinking overmuch about the advances of my Chosen servant, I have time before I am forced into any decision – in fact, I have all the time in the world.
The Adventure's Guild is as I remember it. A large stone building, notable in the Lows for its sturdy construction and three story height, alongside a smithy or some such thing. As we approached to enter the building, I focused on the odd little man within the smithy – the only member of the race of dwarves I've seen since coming to Suprema I'm fairly certain – and he in turn is focused on me. Is that alright though? Mister smith? You seem to be hammering without a care at all – and now you're holding a piece of useless slag…
I thought dwarves were supposed to be quite skilled with their hands – the world has indeed changed.
Pink was right, I can feel that sneaking, slimy creep of the corruption washing over me the closer we get. Annoying. Due to that I take slightly longer strides, leading Pink up to the large wooden door – and then throwing it wide and passing inside. Pink follows me wordlessly, as she has been since our little discussion concluded. I hope she recovers herself soon, I've glanced her way a few times since then – and only seen a face set with grim determination. Does she understand how ridiculous she looks prancing around in an outfit made of string and dreams – all the while making such a dour and serious face? The contradiction is almost too much.
She is in something of a state – doing some serious thinking. Probably concerned about her immediate physical needs that she has just declared her intent to write off. If I actually let her do that, she will undoubtedly suffer for it. And I can't allow that so… maybe I should devise some sort of reward system for her? It would be fine – so long as I were the one to take the lead, I have no objection to her form or figure, only to the occasional lapse of her character as she misguidedly strives to place herself atop me. In the metaphorical sense. When she does so in the physical sense it is much more tolerable, truthfully. I can feel a smile threatening my lips as I regard her shapely body sidelong – there is potential there, for something novel. Something interesting. Something we could do together. It has been many long years – nearly beyond counting – since I've dallied with another. As I've aged I found sleep ever the more attractive partner but… seeing as I can't sleep… perhaps…
I shake my head, those are clearly thoughts for another time. With Pink in her current state I suppose I should handle the talking here – no time for idle flights of fancy.
Inside the Guild there are …more humans. Humans gathered here and there and everywhere. Some in front of counters. Some behind them. Some lining the walls like the worst dressed honor guard in history – and of course a great many just lounging about in the small common area that dominates one half of the room on the right side. I turn left, approaching a particular counter, behind which is probably the most notable magical power in the Lows – well aside the ones from my party – the human woman …Sheryl I think? She must have come back here directly from Clearwater's manor…
As I approach she shoos the human man who had been standing before her counter away. He looks briefly incensed but becomes obedient after spotting me – his mouth half-open as he stumbles away. It's good that the humans of this city have begun to understand their position. Somewhat unexpected really, after Pink's earlier warnings.
“L-Lady Alexandria.” Sheryl greets me, her eyes flicking to Pink and then back to me, a subtle frown creasing her brow.
“Human.” I greet her in turn. “Rejoice, I have come to lift a terrible burden from you and your compatriots in this …fine establishment.” I sweep the room imperiously with my eyes as I speak – and a foul human man spits vulgarly as our gazes briefly cross.
The woman's expression is carefully schooled but I spot a ripple at my proclamation. Surprised maybe? I don't blame her – I can hardly believe it myself. But this is really something I'm doing for myself, in a roundabout way – removing the Unbounded Cores from the picture is something that benefits me after all. A pity that Pink has no knowledge or ability pertaining to extra-dimensional magic – one of the many oversights in her education – or she could be the one to do this.
“…lift a burden? I'm not sure I understand you, Lady Alexandria.” Sheryl replies.
“Your Unbound Cores.” I clarify. “Gather them up, bring them here, I will deal with them.” The regretful words escape me easily.
Sheryl's eyes widen. Surprise and fear plastered across her features.
“Since you have recently proven yourselves so …incapable, I am – personally – volunteering to assist you. I do hope you will properly receive my intentions. I've even handled the Cores Pink was gathering – as you requested.” I plow forward before she can raise any objection.
“Uh…is that so? You have my thanks then, Lady Alexandria. B-but…” Sheryl licks her lips nervously. “L-lady Alexandria, what you ask – it's not something I can provide… the Guildmaster would have to be consulted… To begin with, most of our Unbound Cores are spread out in warehouses across the city – not easily accessible…”
I nod, having expected this to some degree. “It matters not where they are currently, this is a request. I am asking that you gather all of your Unbound Cores into one place, that I might handle them for you.”
“Perhaps… something like that might be possible…” Sheryl's eyes are considering, her fear forgotten as she ponders my proposal. “But it hinges on Gorim's decision – he's the only one in Shadfer with the authority to make that kind of call… and he isn't here – he was dispatched to deal with a suspected Knight Class that appeared at the Three Roads Crossing – he won't return for another week or two at least.”
I consider pressing her harder – something could be accomplished, right now, if I were willing to press I feel. But my motivation is sapped away. Aggressively haggling to be rewarded with more work? I think I'll avoid that… This much should be enough.
“I see. Do make my desires clear to the man, when the opportunity arises – you can contact him via your communication magic can you not?” I say.
“Use of the distantword network is tightly constrained.” Sheryl reports with a troubled face. “As a member of the Adventure's Guild I should be able to manage it… But the receipt of the message depends on when and if Gorim passes through a Legion Checkpoint, since he is headed to Three Roads he should, but I'm afraid we won't be able to receive an immediate reply. Tomorrow or the day after at the absolute earliest…”
I wonder about that. Can she not contact the man directly? What sort of odd magic are they using, for it to be so inefficient? No matter. Another day or week in the distant company of these Cores …I can endure.
“That will be sufficient I suppose. I will endeavor to ignore the Unbound Cores in the meantime, as I await your favorable reply.” I say happily, silently commending myself for my quick resolution of the issue.
Sheryl looks relieved and gives me a nod, a stiff smile on her face.
“Are you quite sure there is nothing you can do for my mistress, sow? It feels only moments ago you were regaling me with the endless power and authority you personally command within this pathetic little city.” Pink's voice cuts in venomously and she steps to the counter, leaning over it. Heedless of how she is showing off her perfect heart shaped ass to a suddenly appreciative crowd.
“…Pink…” Sheryl mutters, glaring at the succubus. “I assure you, Lady Alexandria has my full cooperation. The Guild exists to combat The Encroachment, there is nothing we would like to see more than the destruction of the Unbound Cores. But, as I've tried to explain to you, there is a process.”
“A process you could surely hast- eek!” There is a loud sound of flesh slapping on flesh and Pink stops mid sentence, a strange cry escaping her as she straightens up, hands flying to her butt. I watch with mild amusement – all the from a little swat… She has such fun reactions. Looking at my hand – recently full of something large and round and warm – I ruminate that Pink probably had such a poor impression of the humans because of this endlessly provocative attitude she takes. Is it not simpler to simply state your demands and allow the insects to cater to them?
“Enough Pink. We've achieved what we came for. A delay of a day or a week is not worth the breath required to debate over it. Come – we have other things to do.” Saying so I motion to the door – back the way we came. Pink, still rubbing her butt, throws me a teary and reproachful look, but nods and moves ahead of me.
“You're so mean mistress…” She murmurs in a watery voice, low enough the surrounding humans can't hear.
I just stroll along after her, unrepentant, her complaint is slightly valid – maybe – but since when have I been required to mind such things? Especially after her clumsy attempt at seduction – she can't complain about harassment of this level – if anything she is responsible for planting these sorts of thoughts in me. I can't answer her lust when she puts it to me so directly, I am a Demon Lord - and she my servant. But that doesn't mean I can't appreciate her physical near perfection from time to time.
“…She's still dressed like that…” A woman's voice hisses behind me – low enough that she probably imagines it inaudible.
“…Perhaps I was not entirely clear…” A resigned sounding Sheryl returns quietly.
“It's fine, isn't it?” A man's voice interrupts, hardly any effort made to lower his pitch.
“There was nearly a riot – just yesterday! – weren't you supposed to-” The first woman forgets to lower her voice in her excitement.
“Shhh!” Sheryl hisses, silencing her.
Ignoring the odd byplay, I follow Pink out of the Adventurer's Guild, my attention entirely captured by the sway of her hips… the humans already all but forgotten.
“Pink.” Clearing my head, I prepare to issue my next instructions. “Go fetch Clearwater, or one of his brood. Then meet me at the site of the “Well” they wish me to repair. I plan to inspect it and to ascertain what materials I will require. It would be for the best if my client was at hand to confirm his ability to provide those materials. Laying permanent Rune Formations is an expensive business.”
Pink straightens. “I will do so!” She answers enthusiastically, eyes glimmering with determination.
“Mm… See to it then.” I wave her off, spreading my wings as I speak.
Taking to the sky again I leave Pink's long winded noises of agreement behind. On high, I scan my surroundings, until I pick out the distinctive black building carved from volcanic stone. With a thought I propel myself over it and release my flight – plummeting once more to the ground below. At the last moment before impact I imagine my impact being cushioned – as if I'm landing into a bank of loose snow fifty feet deep – and the magic makes it a reality, sparing the temples grounds any errant craters. Around me there is a momentary flurry of snow, conjured as if from nothing.
Not that I think they would notice either way, considering the lingering reminders of the recent indignities this place was subjected to by the Knight Class Unbound. The bodies have disappeared somewhere – the black banners subtly decorating the temple probably attest to some sort of memorial in progress – but the rubble, crushed stone, and gouged out dirt remains. Ignoring all that I stride easily over to one of the two sets of entryway doors – currently thrown wide as if in welcome.
Before I can get inside though I am intercepted – by a group of people coming out. For a moment I can't place the man and his three companions but after an instant it comes to me – reminded perhaps by his flinty glare.
“Hero.” I greet him.
“Demon Lord.” He returns the greeting warily, eyeing me unabashedly.
“What are you doing here?” I ask, wondering if my intervention is perhaps not necessary.
His eyes soften and he glances around at his companions, before shrugging and returning his eyes to me.
“Duke Clearwater insisted we come have a look – Orina especially.” He gestures with one hand to one of his party members – the elf – who gives me a solemn nod. “Thinking about it, you haven't been introduced have you?”
“This is the Grand Magus Kaya.” He gestures to the robed, staff wielding woman in his party – up close I can seem the emblem on the end of her staff is a tiny replica of a forge.
“The Shieldmaiden, Lilly.” He points to the heavily armored woman, who gives me a slow nod of acknowledgment.
“And …Orina, of the Avashorn.” The elf this time, who gives no further response, save to meet my eyes as I glance in her direction.
“And I am Mattis Ironside, Hero.” Finished with his round of introductions he looks quite proud of himself. And I am overcome with a brief desire to complain – did I ask to be introduced to his worthless companions? But after a moment it fades away. The intervening silence is somewhat awkward.
“I see…” At last I deign to respond, seeing that the conversation is not continuing.
“So… what are you doing here?” I ask a second time.
The Hero's face cramps slightly – but he finally gives me a proper answer. “Clearwater was hopeful we might be able to repair the Well of Avashorn – doubly so because Orina is traveling with us…”
The elf snorts.
“But unfortunately it is beyond our ability to fix. Our talents are ill suited for intricate magical constructions – the Gods know all I'm good for is swinging a sword.” He flashes a slightly roguish smile before continuing. “And while Ori is an elf, that doesn't mean she knows about the most ancient and sacred magical secrets of her race – I think only Aurora and her Runesmiths have any hope of making the repair.” His tone is heavy as he speaks. “On the plus side, Duke Clearwater has assured me that if we make an effort here he will be able to twist Aurora's arm into transporting us back… it won't be long before we can return to The Line.”
The hero's dark eyes are distant, contemplative, as he speaks of The Frontline. That instant of levity completely gone. His words give me slight pause.
“Just like that? Do you not worry? My feeling is that the loss of this 'Well' will be rather dire for the humans of Shadfer.” I ask despite myself.
The man nods in agreement, his gaze dark.
“It will be 'dire' indeed. And for more than just Shadfer. Clearwater will need to conjure a miracle, to see this crisis resolved. But all I can do is trust in his ability to manage his lands – that is his place, mine is on The Frontline. If there was more I could do… well I don't think there is. Clearwater seems confident – and it is through his efforts that we will be able to leave this place. If he could make use of us here I'm sure he would not hesitate to do so.
“Since he seem to have no want or need for me and my party, I can leave with an easy heart. Clearwater has probably two of the most capable people within the Imperium here around Shadfer – so he must be confident in his miracle.” He looks pointedly at me as he says that last.
“I hope… No, I beg that you might listen – if he comes to you for help. The importance of the Well cannot be overstated.” He implores me.
I nearly sigh, a vague annoyance bubbling up in me at how the duke has apparently taken my assistance for granted. Because here I am, set out to complete his task, unbeknownst to even his most powerful minions. But it is that part of him, more than any other, that I can respect – so I suppose cannot begrudge him for it.
“Well. I am here, am I not.” I give the Hero that simple response and then brush past him and his fellows, heading into the temple. Peripherally I can see his eyes widening, a smile cracking his grim features – and then I am past the “Hero” pushing him from my mind.
Inside the temple, past the rubble and debris and angry human caretakers – I've made my way below the main chamber, into the room that houses the Well of Avashorn. The secret lower chamber rivals the size of the large room it sits beneath, the key difference being how empty it is. The chamber above is filled with all sorts of religious iconography, pews, candles, and even a crude sort of forge in the middle of the room – the humans apparently undeterred by a beast trampling all of their most holy possessions, have been busily replacing what was lost – but this room below is empty, a narrow path leading from the stairs to a tiny alter. The rest of the room barren of props or stage dressing.
What is there is …impressive. The room is an oval, evenly rounded on all sides – the ceiling a dome, the floor the same but inverted – and comprised entirely of iron plates. The stairs – the only break in the oval shaped room – lead down into lowest point of the 'bowl' to the aforementioned alter. Above the alter – hanging in midair – is an odd nearly spherical ball of glass or crystal – disfigured on one side, until it looks almost like the waning crescent moon. From that disfigurement it is apparent the thing is not solid, but layered – a hundred panes laid one atop the other and then shaped, formed, until it looks like this.
And every inch of the thing is covered in spiky, flowing script. The transparent layers cause the unknown writing to overlap, shapes intermingling and when viewed from the angle of the alter… Rune Formations are created. Of a sort. I can feel my brow furrowing. What a lengthy and difficult process this must have been – to no obvious benefit at all. Well I suppose by layering the panes in that manner you would distribute the spell over the many individual pieces, which would allow you to make use of a material with an inherent quality not equal to the power of the spell – perhaps it really was made from glass.
But I don't think that is the reason.
Because the iron plates – that comprise the walls, floor, and ceiling of the room – are also covered in that same artful script. Any sign of how the iron plates were constructed, welded together and placed, is expertly hidden by those spiky characters. And. More importantly. They also form Rune Formations, in the most obtuse possible way – using the curvature of the room certain sections of the scripture viewed from the angle of the alter can be charitably interpreted as Runes. Specifically Runes for amplification, range, health, and life – not a spell formation I recognize. In fact, while I can pick out dozens of Runes in this room, none of them seem to add up into a proper spell or enchantment – at least not any I am familiar with.
That said, the intent is clear, from the words I can pick out. Things like bounty, crop, shield, protect, rejuvenate, empower, growth, and other similarly saccharine concepts. How it is all woven together escapes me, somehow able to draw power from the devotions offered by the temple above… Perhaps if I spent some time studying it… I let my eyes wander the room – but no spark of desire to familiarize myself with this unknown magic materializes. Probably because of its obvious inferiority. I can just… tear it all down – build something better in its place. Show these humans what real magic looks like…
Around me that flowing script ignites. Burns. Green flame consuming whatever odd poetry the elves saw fit to leave here. Tiny holes in the iron, minute imperfections and flaws cause by the march of time – and also the many, many small puncture points left by the Knight Class – all smoothed out by heat and magic. The glass structure… I leave it untouched for now. It would require a certain level of delicacy – and I'm not sure it's worth the effort. Around me the iron is smooth, unblemished, a massive gray expanse – a huge blank canvas.
Here I pause. I could go further. But for the benefit of the children's growth, I think I'll stop. Nothing to do with my desire to avoid work of course.
I'm glad I sent for Clearwater, we will need something. Iron is a poor choice, if you want to inscribe something with serious magic. Maybe if this were all gold it would suit my purposes… Idly, while I wait for the duke, I return my attention to the odd glassy core of the “Avashorn Well” – a light frown creasing my brow as I allow my wings to lift me off the floor and drift a lazy circuit around the thing. When viewed from various angles different Runes reveal themselves – a character that makes up the curve of a Rune when viewed from the alter, when viewed from a different angle makes up a portion of a different Rune. Presuming all of it is properly bound together into a cohesive whole through some method that is not immediately apparent – this is a needlessly complex piece of magic.
Far more complex than is necessary for magic of the degree I felt in the brief moment I was immersed in the Well. Spell formula needlessly overengineered – perhaps to compensate for the poor quality of the material it is inscribed upon? Or perhaps to offset the cost incurred by the odd – almost religious – presentation? A Rune Formation needs to be properly formed to give the best results, having it be comprised of hundreds of smaller irregular parts would probably result in an imperfect spell being formed. The question becomes – since the creator of the magical item was apparently aware that using odd scripture and poor material would require overengineering to this degree, instead of just plainly inscribing the Runes into a mithril ingot or somesuch – why did they not just plainly make the inscriptions?
Why – I wonder as I reach out and run my hand along the smooth outer surface of the Well – has proper magic, the practices related to its creation and use, been lost to these people?
“…You. What have you done?” I'm pulled from my musings by a hard voice. Sparing a glance below me I see the elder Clearwater has come out personally – and he looks angry. Behind are a handful of men – guards and advisers from the looks of them, all looking unsure.
By way of response I just tilt my head, looking down at him from my place alongside the suspended magical construct.
“You've destroyed the Well.” Not a question. A statement. His voice is clipped and tightly controlled. Behind him Pink has arrived as well and she is currently glaring daggers into his back, looking as if she dearly wants to interject. But when I meet her eyes – silently instructing her to back off – she does just that.
“I did inform you that would be the necessary first step, did I not?” I reply flatly.
He blinks, an instant of unsurety flashing across his face. “I was under the impression that negotiations were still ongoing.” He finally forces out.
“Indeed. Take it as an indication of my confidence that you will be able to satisfactorily uphold your end of the bargain.” I say.
“No bargain has yet been struck, Lady Alexandria!” He snarls. Causing his entourage behind him to flinch and cower. Pink merely crosses her arms, emphasizing her sizable bust, and regards the man with an expression that could be charitably described as contemptuous.
For a moment I ponder his anger, before comprehending.
Bored, I nod. “I understand, Clearwater. You desire to keep your options open, correct? The doves may yet be swayed to move on your behalf here. If that is the case this should soothe your turbulent heart – I have left the core of the thing intact, and the extremities I have scrubbed clean would have had to be replaced in any case.” I sweep the room with my arm, indicating the smooth iron plates. “They were compromised by thousands upon thousands of minute imperfections – a result of the exposure to the venom of the Unbound Knight Class – and required comprehensive repair.
“Out of the charity of my heart, my deep desire for friendship with the humans of the 'Imperium' I have gone ahead and enacted that repair. You need not worry, if your celestial allies would like to come and reapply the incompetent scribblings of the elves, they will have no trouble doing so.”
Some of the anger leaves the man at my reassurance that his options are still open and he nods, releasing a heavy sigh.
“I see. I apologize, for speaking without a full understanding of the situation. The Well is beyond my ability to comprehend, I will simply have to trust that you are not deceiving me here.” He says flatly. Then that shrewd tone of his returns as he continues. “May I ask then, why you have asked me here? Lady Pink was not entirely forthcoming – she only told me you had requested my presence at the Well.”
I can't help but raise a skeptical eyebrow as he says that. The Lord of this city moving himself on such a flimsy pretense…? Surely he should have extracted more information from Pink than that. Interpreting my face as he likes the man continues – attempting to explain himself.
“The fate of the Well is probably the single most important thing for all the citizens of my duchy. We rely on it more heavily than words can express. Losing it would represent a terrible blow my lands would likely never recover from – if there is the slightest chance… I have no choice but to leap on it.”
“Hmm.” I make a thoughtful noise, remembering the man doesn't know I was eavesdropping on him earlier. Of course I understand the things importance, else why would I have bothered coming here in the first place?
“Is it fine to tell me that Ser Duke? I am a Demon Lord you know…” I momentarily enjoy the slight paling of his face, but my heart quickly smooths and I press forward. “Don't look at me like that, twas a jest, of course. The demons of Artas seek nothing more than friendly relations between our peoples.” I smile reassuringly.
“Of course.” He returns, recovering admirably. “The power of the Well and the extent of it's value is a carefully guarded secret – one of the Imperium's trump cards – but I have decided to trust you.” His steely gray eyes meet mine as he speaks.
Looking into those eyes, I don't see something like trust. I see a man with few options, few cards to play, and an overwhelming, relentless desire to see his duties completed. They are eyes I can respect, even if the man himself is so pitifully weak. But, well, over the years I've grown accustomed to being somewhat accommodating to the pitifully weak, so I don't mind it.
“Well since you are being so frank, let me return that kindness. My subordinates and I can certainly replace this.” I run my hand atop the smooth marble of glass idly as I speak. “But I will require materials. Either a small quantity of rare metal – adamantite, viltinium, maybe mithril in slightly larger quantities – or we will have to repaper this room in gold. Or the heartwood of a thousand year tree, if you have a great quantity of that lying around.”
Clearwater goes silent, eyes boring up into mine. Behind him his subordinates are all wearing expressions of shock and disbelief. One man in a robe even leans forward and says a few murmured words to the duke, before shaking his head regretfully straightening up.
“These materials… they will be consumed to work your magic?” The duke asks.
“No. They will be the medium upon which the magic is inscribed and will remain here, in this room – much like this thing here.” Saying so I pat the glass orb, my fingers tracing minute spots of damage left by the residue of the Knight Class on the items surface.
“Then is it impossible to reuse the Well itself?” He asks, looking pointedly at the glassy construct under my fingertips.
“Indeed, it is impossible. Well perhaps the doves could make use of it? Or its original creators? But I am not versed in whatever incomprehensible scrawl was used in the creation of this thing, so I cannot repair it. I have doubts I could scrub the script from it and leave the structure intact, and even if I could I don't think it would be able to handle the required Rune Formations – proper magic is not typically layered as an onion.” I generously explain.
“…I see. Then – how much mithril or adamantite, exactly, would you require?”
I give it a moment of thought, composing the necessary Rune Formations in my head that would replicate the effects of this “Avashorn Well” and trying to imagine how much physical space would be required to engrave them – what the final product would have to look like… probably a hoop or a band of some sort right? Something representing a cycle.
“Three ingots of adamantite, or nine ingots of mithril.” I finally pronounce.
“…nine?!…” I hear one of the adviser-looking men hiss. Before Clearwater silences him with a glare.
“I understand. Thank you for clarifying. Being able to put a firm price on this repair gives me hope – but I do not know if it is a price my duchy can afford. Please give me some more time to consider.” The duke says.
I shrug indifferently. “Quite. I've done all I can here for the time being. If you would like to see this project completed, well, at that time I will be counting on your coffers Ser Duke.”
He nods strongly. “Thank you again Lady Alexandria, Lady Pink. It shames me to be unable to act decisively here but I promise, I will have a proposal for you in short order – I must confirm if the Crown will be willing to lend out some of the cost.”
“Think nothing of it Ser Duke.” I wave off his thanks, my interest in the conversation lost.
Outside the two of us are making our way on foot, and we've just passed from the cobbled streets of the Upper district, onto the packed dirt of the Lows. Pink is frowning. She's cute though, even when she frowns. As that thought flits across my mind I nearly want to frown myself – the girl is terribly distracting.
“For you to have to personally help the humans… I am deeply ashamed.” She says mournfully.
Yawning, following the open conduit that binds me to Martin and Emily, I wave off her concerns disinterestedly.
“It ultimately services our own goals Pink. And you three will be infinitely more useful if you have a better grasp of magic… It is deeply concerning that even my Chosen servant has not even the slightest grasp of the most important fundamentals of magic.”
The words escape me and I'm slightly surprised to find they are not lies. I can only see this journey becoming unreasonably troublesome if a bunch of worthless incompetents are clinging to my feet every step of the way – they should be able to toddle along on their own, at the very least.
“My deepest apo-” Pink is about to launch into another of her worthless apologies when I interrupt her, grabbing her hand and giving it a squeeze.
“I feel I've said this before, but you apologize too much.” I remind her.
She trembles slightly in my grasp, and her pink tongue slips from her mouth in an unconscious display her her nervousness, but she nods. Drawn by that tongue, my eyes trace her lips, pink and moist, her dewy eyes, the blush rising in her cheeks – and without giving it any particular thought I lean into her as if to seal those lips with a kiss.
“Oi! What are you two doin' here? I thought there was some important business or something you was takin' care of?” A loud cry interrupts. “Actually, wait… what are you doing…?”
I arrest my movement, pulling back and turning to face the person we had been tracking down – Martin. He stands at the end of the small alley, a brown sack hanging from his hand, his head tilted inquisitively.
“Martin, what are you doing? Why are you playing around over…” Emily appears and begins lecturing him – before trailing off when spotting Pink and I.
Martin gives me a lecherous grin. “I wasn't interupptin' nothing was I? My bad if I was, I can leave… but I dunno how much I'd recommend-”
“Martin!” Emily cuts him off, jabbing an elbow into his ribs.
“No. You weren't interrupting anything.” I say calmly. “In fact, we were just coming to find you – I've decided the humans can handle hunting down the remaining bugs crawling about, for you two – my Chosen servants – I have something much more important. Much more tedious and difficult, but I have every confidence you are equal to the task.” My smile stretches wide, something dangerous hidden behind it.
Martin squints at me. “Difficult an' tedious?” He repeats sullenly.
“Oh yes. Carving out Runes by hand is a slow, painstaking process – made worse by the requirement of absolute perfection. And soon the duke will be requesting that of you – or of me, who will then be passing the task along to you – so in the meantime we'll see about hammering the process into you. You have some sort of facility prepared don't you Pink? Where the children can get the peace and quiet they need to practice their Runes? Perfection is tantamount to success you understand, I wouldn't be surprised if they needed to practice the motions a thousand times.”
Pink chuckles darkly, her dewy eyes and rosy cheeks gone like mist – leaving only a hard eyed demon teacher.
“I think I have just the place.” She says.