Chapter 3 Volume 1; What’s the Matter? Scene Three

Is she asking for money? Ian pondered. After all, he had never heard of shillings until now. On top of that, the guard, Sam, told him information would be free.

Apparently, the dilemma showed on his face since the woman inquired, “Do you not have money?” Her voice sounded confused and her face asked why a person would walk around without money.

In return, Ian looked her straight in the eye and said, “A guard at the city entrance told me information was free here, though.”

Without batting an eye, the woman raised her brow, pointed to the paper on the table, and replied, “This is a map, though.”

Is she mocking me?

“He also said to say hello, now I think about it.”

“Was it Sam?”


“My brother’s friend. Ignore him. Now, three shillings?”

“Fine. You keep it,” Ian asserted. “I’ll find my way around without it.”

Before he could turn around, the woman smirked and suggested, “How about another form of payment?”

The question sent a shiver down his spine. Where, exactly, was this heading?

“What did you have in mind?” he cautiously asked.

“Pft, no need to be so on guard. It’s not like I’ll sell you into slavery or something for three shillings,” the woman answered, giggling. “You see, I enjoy learning about others’ Innate Gifts. It’s something of a hobby. So, you tell me yours, and I give you the map. How about it?”

Now Ian’s confusion soared to new heights. What were these Innate Gifts she spoke of? Learning some common sense would definitely be in his best interests.

Once again, his confusion displayed itself on his face and the woman noticed. She looked at him in surprise and asked, “You must be from the middle of nowhere if you never tested your Gifts. What kind of backwater village did you sprout out from?”

I feel like I somehow got profiled as a hick. Not the most pleasant feeling…

“Wait here,” the woman said as she opened a door behind the counter. A minute later, she returned carrying a cube approximately twenty centimeters in length. Two blue orbs the color of ice protruded from opposite sides. The woman gently set the box on the counter and said, “Don’t ask why this is here.”

That just makes me more curious.

Aloud, Ian skeptically asked, “What do I do with it?”

“Never seen a Search Box before? Well, place your hands on the orbs, and it will show your Gifts on the obsidian square atop the box,” the woman explained with anticipation oozing from her voice.

After a brief moment of hesitation and suspicion, Ian slowly reached out and placed a hand on each orb. Coolness spread into his hands upon contact.

“Don’t worry,” the woman said, sporting an amused grin, “it’s only slightly invasive.”

“Wha-?” Ian did not even have the chance to speak a single word before finding out what she meant. At first, slight vibrations tickled his palms. Subconsciously, he attempted to tear his hands away from the orbs, but to no avail. A tingling sensation similar to goosebumps tickled the inside of his hands. From there, it began to feel as though thousands of tiny insects squirmed and burrowed through his arms, eventually spreading throughout his entire body. When it reached his head, it sounded like flies buzzing and bouncing around the inside of his skull. No one would ever hear what his crotch felt like.

Exactly three minutes passed during the procedure, followed by the subsequent release as the tingling sensation squirmed back into the box. ‘Invasive’ turned out to be a huge understatement. In fact, an overwhelming desire to smash this so-called Search Box into oblivion filled his mind. Unfortunately, doing so would probably incur some debt.

As soon as possible, he tore his hands away from the orbs. A blue, shimmering light atop the black cube then grasped Ian’s attention. Upon closer inspection, he noticed the light formed letters, most likely Common. They looked vaguely reminiscent of Latin characters he saw a friend studying back in college, not that he could read those either.

“Oh, wow, didn’t expect that…” the woman muttered while glancing over the results.

Turning his attention to the woman, Ian watched her face turn from curiosity to surprise. The exaggerated movements of her eyebrows belied her mature expression from before. Her light brown eyes opened wide and sparkled, reflecting the luminescence emanating from the box.

“What’s it say?” Ian asked with unmasked curiosity.

The woman struggled to pull her attention away from the box enough to answer, “I guess you could say blacksmithing will probably be easy for you. It may even be to the point that your Gifts affected you subconsciously when you decided to aim for smithing.”

Although the thought of his Gifts altering his mental state worried him, Ian currently cared more about getting a specific answer. As such, he clasped his hands together and asked, “So, what are they?”

“You don’t seem that worried about any psychological repercussions.”

“I am, but can you tell me what it says specifically?”

In response, the woman tilted her head while adopting a completely “innocent” expression and said, “That information will cost you five silver.”

Again with the stupid money…

“And why does it cost so much?” Ian asked in spite of the fact he had no idea how much five silver compared to three shillings.

“Well~” the woman replied, “to be honest, it would normally cost ten silver if you went to the academy or a guild to get tested.”

“Sounds like these boxes are hard to come by, then. Where’d you get it?”

“I told you not to ask, remember?”

“That only makes me more curious,” Ian muttered, glaring intently at the woman.

Shrugging, the woman brushed her bangs away from her face and said, “At least it’s a discount.”

“Haaaaaaah…” Ian sighed, thoroughly exasperated by the conversation. By all accounts, this woman had reached a frightening level of skill in scamming. However, she had a playful attitude which made it hard to feel angry at her. In fact, it felt as though she did not intend to scam him in the first place.

A sound of paper sliding against wood pulled Ian from his musings. Looking at the counter, he saw the woman pushing the map toward him with her forefinger.

“I nearly forgot about the map,” Ian muttered.

“I know,” the woman replied. “Anyway, feel free to come back if you need anything else. When you do, ask for Aria. That’s me, by the way.”

She says that like I’d willingly come back here to get scammed again, Ian thought. Well, better safe than sorry. Thinking such, he asked, “Am I missing something?”

“You didn’t give your name in return,” Aria answered, nonchalantly shrugging while tilting her head and raising a brow.

“Name’s Ian. So, anything else?”

“Nope. You’re good to go… for now,” Aria answered, grinning cheekily.

I knew it, Ian thought while shaking his head in disbelief. He had unwittingly gotten involved with a troublesome person. Ready to end the conversation, he turned and left the building. Since the visit took a heavy toll on him mentally, he strongly desired to try his hand at smithing to relieve built up stress. All things considered, he looked forward to it.

* * * * *

Aria watched the young man, Ian, exit the building. During her five years of working at the Visitor Center, she had met several interesting people, many of which she tricked into letting her find out their Gifts. Even so, none of them compared to the young man just now. He was definitely worth keeping an eye on, and not because of love or anything… probably…

Well, he had a certain charm to him, but honestly, she simply desired to see what he might accomplish in the future. Many people had more Gifts than him, but not that many at high quality, not to mention the first one.

Shrugging, Aria retrieved her book from below the counter and resumed reading where she left off before Ian interrupted her.

Still, those Gifts… Yeah, she wasn’t going to forget him anytime soon.

{???????} {High Fire Affinity} {High Fire Resistance} {Medium Earth Affinity} {High Physical Affinity} {Medium Curse/Charm Resistance}

* * * * *

Far away in the center of the Northern District, footsteps echoed through the stone halls of Ursa Keep. A young man strolled around the edge of the fourth floor of the West Tower, gazing through the open windows. A cool, evening breeze whistled through his wavy blond hair. At the rear end of the tower, he reached his destination, a large wooden door. He stepped through. The door creaked ominously, showing its age.

“You’re late, Edmund,” A man sternly asserted, his voice deep and regal. Atop his head sat a golden crown imbued with four gems symbolizing the four main elements. Sapphire for water, Topaz for earth, Ruby for fire, Emerald for wind. A fur cloak made from a werebear rested on his shoulders, concealing most of a white silk shirt. The others in the room wore similarly majestic clothes. In comparison, Edmund always felt underdressed in his black shirt and pants. The only thing signifying his connection to these people was the decorative sword sheathed at his hip, its golden pommel reflecting the light of the gold-plated chandelier hanging overhead.

“Sorry, father,” the young man replied, bowing. Snickers could be heard at one end of the room. His second brother, Baldrik, no doubt.

“Come to my quarters afterward. For now, we must begin,” the king said.

“Yes, father,” Edmund replied while taking his seat furthest from the king but on the man’s right where all six of his sons sat. The opposite side seated the council members.

From there, the others in the room discussed many political issues he held no interest in. However, he listened, absorbing all information. Eventually, the king looked at Edmund and asked, “How is the situation with the bandit group calling themselves Equilibrium?”

“Finished. All the leaders are dead,” Edmund replied calmly.

“Tch. Not like bandits would be difficult to deal with,” Baldrik sneered. As usual, Edmund ignored him.

Also ignoring the insult, the king asked, “Considering I asked you to take care of it yesterday, how did you take care of it so quickly?”

“An adventurer called Nightstalker took care of it,” Edmund replied.

Murmurs of acknowledgment rose from the people seated at the table. The king rose his hand, silencing them. Then, he said, “If it was Nightstalker, then there is no doubt the group is finished. The roads will be a little safer now. Moving on…”

From there, Edmund had no part in the conversation. In fact, he rarely got called to these meetings in the first place. By the end of the meeting, he recalled why he never minded missing them either. Boredom quickly set in.

When the king dismissed everyone, he sent Edmund a look that basically said, Don’t forget to come to my quarters.

Of course, he never forgot. Either way, he hurried out the door and hastened to his father’s chamber. He waited patiently at the door for his father to arrive. As expected, the king made him wait for over an hour before finally showing up.

“Come,” the king said, opening the door.

Edmund nodded and followed.

Before doing anything else, the king removed his cloak and haphazardly tossed it onto a nearby chair. The man continued without stopping until he reached a table with a large pitcher of wine and a few glasses on top. He poured himself a glass and chugged it. Then, while pouring a second glass and keeping his back to Edmund, the king asked, “So, why were you late today?”

Edmund’s eye twitched at the question. Although the true answer probably had something to do with Baldrik delaying the message, he had no proof. Instead, he answered, “I was in the midst of receiving the report from the guild when I was notified of the meeting.”

Well, at least the answer held some truth to it.

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The king proceeded to gulp down his second glass of wine, most likely Red Sherry, a novelty from Sumaris. Edmund remained silent. When the king began pouring a third glass, he said, “I guess that’s fine, but I’ll tell you now. Lying to your king is an unpardonable offense.”

Edmund stiffened.

The king turned and chuckled, all the while taking sips from his glass of wine. “I found out about your nighttime gallivanting.”

Nervous sweat formed on Edmund’s palms and forehead.

“Well, don’t worry about it,” the king said, adopting both a serious expression and tone. “At least one of my children is learning about the world.”

Edmund blinked a few times. What exactly was his father saying?

The king gazed out the window and muttered, “If I need any help, I trust your friend, Nightstalker, would be willing to take requests from you?”

Edmund nodded and answered, “Yes, father. I’m sure he would be happy to oblige, as long as he gets paid, of course.”

The king laughed a hearty laugh. “Indeed. That’s how a mercenary should be. Now then, I wish to discuss something with you that should be kept privy.”

“What might that be?”

The king sat down in the nearest cushioned chair and answered, “Relations with the Daemonkin haven’t been great, and I don’t expect them to get better. See if some of your acquaintances can keep an eye on it.”

“Very well,” Edmund replied. Honestly, he already knew about the cracks in diplomacy, not that he could do anything about it in his current position.

“Alright, then. You may take your leave.”

“Thank you, father,” Edmund said, bowing. Without further ado, he left, leaving the king alone with his drink.

“If he wasn’t a bastard, I’d be tempted to name him my heir…” the king muttered as he fell into a lonely stupor.

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