(Please note, not edited/checked/PR-ed. You may run into a questionable grammar or two. If you spot them, please let me know in the comments. Thanks!!)
Although he was confident of enjoying some quality father and son time together with his little boy, the reality proved to be a cruel mistress. Once Damien entered his office, all his plans got dashed, just like that, by the sight of piles upon piles of documents that required his immediate attention. It wasn’t like he had been evading his responsibilities or anything, it’s just that his work always had a way to overwhelm him at the most inopportune moments.
“Rosy, brew me a strong pot of tea, will you? I am going to need it quite soon.”
Frowning, he asked the young maidservant for an assistance that should come in handy later. She peeked into the office from behind him, and gave a I pity you, sir kind of gaze before nodding, slinking away into the kitchen.
Breathing in deeply, Damien looked around for a suitable place, and when he located one in his cluttered office, he brought the cot in from the nursery and set it there. Lowering his son inside, he stroked Kain’s head as he apologized.
“Hey Kain, daddy’s going to catch up on some paperwork. Can you entertain yourself for a little while? I promise I’ll be quick. In the meantime, why don’t you…. uh, read these books? It’s got lots of pictures and all.”
Kain looked at him and thought, you must be out of your mind, giving a new born baby books to mess around in, but after seeing the titles, he revised his mind. They all sounded interesting, as far as his still suspect reading skills went.
Even if he couldn’t read properly, since he was offered the chance he might as well take it, and improve his reading and writing. With that in mind, he nodded his consent right away.
Damien silently swore inside that his seven month old baby boy was already understanding what he was saying. That would be quite outlandish if true, but he had to dismiss such thoughts as baseless, as he hadn’t had time to dwell on that.
So, he simply patted his son’s head and said, “Now there’s good boy. I’ll be right over there, so you want something, just give me shout, alright?”
Oh, sure thing, boss. Kain smiled weakly while sighing in his mind. Is this guy off his meds or something?
A few things have happened in the last few months, but due to his diligent – read had-no-choice-in-the-matter – studying, he was at a place where he was able to listen in on conversations held by people around him. He still heard words he didn’t know yet now and then, but hell, the speed at which he developed at was quite clearly abnormal.
Other than his consciousness being that of a twenty something office worker, there were no other fitting explanations for it.
He just fervently hoped that this thing about him picking up the language fairly quickly wasn’t his one and only cheat skill, otherwise that would surely be categorized as A Damn Waste.
Reading was still a problem however. Reaching out to the thinnest book in front of him, Kain flipped through a few ungainly and stiff pages and arrived at a part filled with texts on one side and some watercolor illustrations on the other.
One of the biggest reason why it was difficult for him to wrap his head around on the lettering system, despite having seen the storybook in the nursery repeatedly, was because of the alphabets in use.
In short, they looked like the result of an unholy union between some ancient Hieroglyphics straight out of a Egyptian Pyramid and Russian/Greek letters after a night of binge drinking gone wrong.
Just looking at them gave him a mild migraine.
Oh well, it’s not like there’s a better way anyway. Let’s just do this thing.
Kain knew the faster he learned to read, the faster he’d get to his goal. Which was, needless to say, finding more about just what the hell was going on here. But his goal had shifted while he wasn’t really aware of it happening.
See, the thing was, he got bored.
Doing nothing but baby things, like sleeping, drinking, pooping, burping and spewing, these past few months got monotonous real quick and he needed a distraction fast, but that was easier said than done as there wasn’t really anything that resembled entertainment in this world, not that he had seen one as yet.
Reading was seemingly the only way to alleviate the crushing power of the boredom around here.
Although he knew how to read some words already – associating them to images did wonders – but he still faced limitations, forcing him to work around the hurdle to the best of his abilities.
He was so very, very far from being a fluent reader, of course, but was at a place where he felt there was a definite progress being made here.
The book he was holding didn’t seem all that interesting, so he put it away. The next one in line was quite voluminous, and he struggled to pick it up in one go. The cover was also seriously thick, with tough, darkened leather bounding it tightly. The letters on it were faded from the repeated thumbing, but overall the condition of the book was excellent.
On the spine, the title was preserved and he could recognize some letters, but the word as a whole, he wasn’t sure. So, more out of curiosity than anything else, he tried to open it, and after some struggle he was able to flip open the stiff cover.
He shuddered in delight as soon as he saw the contents.
What he held in his hands was a book about magic, as hinted at by the illustrations on the pages.
In other words, he’d stumbled into a potential gold mine.
Going through couple more pages, he was dead sure of his findings. The images were of a robed figure taking various poses and effects of spells taking place around this said person. Words like ‘fire’ and ‘earth’ were written alongside, and the more he looked at them, the more convinced he became, that the texts next to the images were the chants required for the respective spells.
Kain gleefully turned over the pages, not paying any mind to Damien who was neck deep in trying to thin out the piles of documents in front of him.
He was sweating profusely. It was hot and humid as it was the onset of Summer, and leaving the windows open did little to lessen the stifling heat in his office.
He read the reports written by a river engineer with a troubled expression. Every year without fail, the Monsoon season brought about flooding of the river Anders and her banks, causing a bit of a damage to the vineyards and wheat fields next to it. What luck for the village to be located right next to one of the most important rivers on the continent.
According to the astrologists from Lafayette, the nearest big city in the province, this year’s rainfall was predicted to be more severe than the year before. The flood happening was a certain deal, in other words.
Last year, Damien somehow was able to reinforce the weaker parts of the riverbanks within the allocated budget of the village and the overall impact of the flood was limited. But that was then.
Going off by top of his head, there were some wiggle room in this year’s budget for more reinforcement work, but since he was not a clairvoyant, he wasn’t sure whether the amount was going to be enough.
He sighed, and scratched his head.
Riverfield, the village Damien had been governing for the past five years, seemed like a relaxed, trouble-free place from afar. After all, it was a small community with less than four hundred souls living in it.
Yet beneath the calm, friendly exterior, there were enough issues to make a stern man lose patience. The small populace meant there wasn’t enough taxes collected to solve every problems that arose while he wasn’t looking.
He missed being an Adventurer. Compared to this, that was better. Less to worry about overall, less responsibilities to mull over.
Feeling demotivated, Damien’s mind wandered until the faces of his older brother and father floated to the front of his mind.
“Hell, I don’t know how you do it, Dukakis,” Damien muttered his brother’s name to no one in particular.
He mused how long it had been since he last saw that guy. Try as he might, not one good memories of his family came to him but, nor were they terribly unpleasant – just whole lot of indifferent expressions etched across the so-called family’s various stiff mugs.
He looked at his son who was poring through the thick book and murmured, “Don’t worry, son. I’ll never treat you like that. That much, I promise. They won’t even know of you until it’s safe for you.”
He fondly gazed at his child, thinking what a smart kid he was, until he noticed the book the baby was holding. Then Damien’s face lost color.
Grunting in panic, he swiftly got up from behind the desk and dashed towards Kain. Then he pried the thick book off the baby’s hand, saying, “Sorry kiddo. Your mommy’s going to have my head if she finds out I let you play around with this book.”
Kain reached out reflexively to take the book back but it was well out of reach by then. Damien smiled apologetically at the frowning baby with rapidly rising puffy cheeks.
“I’ll get you another one, one with lots of pretty pictures inside. Let’s see….”
Hurriedly, he cast his eyes at the only bookshelf in the office. It was filled to the brim with books but at a casual glance it was rather obvious there weren’t anything suitable for a baby’s consumption.
There was a series of books on The Imperial Taxation Decree; another set on The Imperial Constitution. There were a pair of publications on the military tactics employed by a famous general in the last great war at the Norwich Pass up North. Another on how to achieve a highly efficient wheat farming.
Nothing for a kid to look at, no matter how hard he searched. While he was sweating profusely at a sudden, increasingly combustible situation rising behind him in a form of a new born child ready to throw an almighty tantrum, he saw a potential savior. Tucked up pretty deeply in a corner of the upper most shelf, there was an outdated bestiary of the Continent Noa, the one they were living on.
Unable to remember if it had scary pictures in it or not, he quickly pulled it out and blew away the layer of dust off it. Because of disuse the leather on the cover had gone very stiff and when he pried it open, he nearly snapped it in half.
He nearly bleated out an expletive but held it back just in time.
To his relief, there weren’t too many scary images inside, although some depictions of Fiends were a bit on the graphic side. Still, it was reasonably family-friendly so he figured it was safe to let his baby boy fool around with it.
“Here, Kain. Take a look at this!! Isn’t this more interesting?”
Damien showed the boy a page that showed variants of hares and watched for a reaction, and when he confirmed that it was positive, he was able to relax just a little.
“I’ve brought tea, m’lord,”
Rosy announced from the corridor before entering the office, carrying a wooden plate with a porcelain tea pot, a smaller pot containing goat milk, a jar with sweetener, and some biscuits.
Sitting back on his chair with a bumpf after averting a disaster, Damien welcomed the timely intrusion of his maidservant. “Thanks Rosy. You’re a life saver.”
After gulping down the bitter tea, he felt refreshed enough to tackle the problems of the village once more.
He left caring of Kain to Rosy and dived into his work in earnest. The faster he finishes, the longer he’d be able to play with his son.
Although, he did find the amount of documents he had to go through quite unnecessary. All this bureaucracy was making him go mad.
The Imperial Office of Records wanted a fastidious record-keeping done on all of its territories no matter how remote. So it was the same with the other landlords elsewhere. Such thoughts didn’t give Damien a cause to celebrate however.
Placing the river engineer’s report to the side, thinking he needed to locate the funds first before he can move, he shifted through the pile, as he tried to locate the other urgent reports, noted by the date.
If he could sort out the important ones from the others which he can safely ignore, then he’d finish in time for lunch, optimistically speaking.
And then he saw it. Well, not the important document, but something else.
Damien got an eyeful of Rosy’s bouncy cleavage when she bent down to pour him another cup. That relieved some of his stress a little.
Quickly fixing his gaze away from the temptation, he absentmindedly looked at the document in his hand, something he grabbed without noticing.
And felt an irritating itch develop at the back of his neck.
It was a scroll, still sealed with a wax on top. The seal had a mark of the Imperial Office. A written communique from one of the numerous organizations hell bent on making his life as difficult as possible.
He drew blank on just when he’d receive this. Usually, something like this would have been delivered by hand, requiring the recipient to sign a form signifying he or she had received it unsealed.
He certainly couldn’t remember meeting a courier recently. Who could’ve received it and forgotten to tell him about it?
“Oh, right. I was wondering where that ran off to,” said Rosy as she noticed the crimson scroll in Damien’s grip.
“Two weeks ago a messenger arrived on a fast horse and left it here with me. But I forgot where I’ve put it. Thank you for finding it, m’lord.”
So said the big cat girl while presenting the refilled cup of tea.
Damien fell silent, wondering what he should say. He didn’t want to utter something insensitive, as it was his fault, probably, as he failed to educate her properly on the importance of the Imperial Seal.
In the end he didn’t say anything, and just received the cup. Then he unfurled the scroll, breaking the wax seal.
Honestly, he didn’t really feel good opening it. The itch grew even more, thinking that this was some sort of announcements regarding a declaration of some new red tape being put in place.
He was incorrect.
It was a politely worded request to all the territories that neighbored special areas called the Sacred Acres. A Sacred Acre was, normally speaking, quite a dangerous place, a nest of man-eating Fiends and deadly curses. It just happens so that Riverfield did lay close to one, albeit it was as dangerous as a new born calf.
The simple reason was that the area in question was explored in its fullest, and the Fiends inhabiting it cleared out a few years ago. Damien personally led the detachment of militiamen and certified Adventurers to do so, and he was confident he performed a thorough job back then.
The Imperial Request was seeking a material only found within the Sacred Acres; frankly Damien had never heard of such an item before, but judging by the tone of the letter in his hand, he inferred it must’ve been a rather important stuff.
“Huh. No mention of compensation whatsoever, anywhere. And the Capital expects the free handover, eh? How luxurious.”
Damien shrugged his shoulders, then he crumpled the letter, chucking it away to a corner. The wax seal belonged not to the Royal Imperial Family or for that matter, any of the important branches of the government, but to the Imperial Institute of Research.
It meant that even if he ignored the request the consequences wouldn’t be severe. Besides, he had other things to worry about; he was not in a secure financial position to hire Adventurers from Lafayette, nor could he spare the village militia to go on a goose chase of an item that may or may not exist in Riverfield’s Sacred Acre.
“So that’s that, then. Next.” Damien shrugged his shoulders and picked up another document, unfurling it to read the contents.
“M’lord, will it be alright to disregard the request? I mean, it is from that Institute, isn’t it? Won’t that prove to be troublesome?”
Rosy asked worriedly.
Damien looked at her slightly surprised. It must have been Lizbeth who told her the past issues he had with the darn Institute. But well, now that he was installed as a lord of a territory, even the Head Director of the meddlesome Institute had no way of disrupting him.
“Pay it no mind, Rosy. The ancient ruin near the village holds no value and I’ve people who can back that claim up. I’ll just write up a reply stating such, as well as adding in our unkind outlook of the financial situation and that’ll be that.”
“If you say so, m’lord.” She sighed. “Will there be anything else, sir?”
“That’s all for now, thank you.”
As Rosy turned, Damien’s still pin-sharp senses felt presences of a handful of horse-mounted figures approaching, then stopping by the front of his house. One of them he recognized, but the others, they were foreign.
The old timer, Frank the gardener, should be opening the gates by now.
“….Rosy, looks like we might have guests today. Please show them in.”
Her ears twitched as she tried to sense them; and when she did, she turned around to face him and nodded, leaving the office quickly without missing a beat.
It had been a good few years since Damien had to give up on the lifestyle of a highly regarded Adventurer but his perceptions remained as reliable as ever. The fact made him happy inside.
It meant he could return to that life without feeling too rusty, if the need ever rises again in the future.
Lizbeth might beat me up if I mention that now, Damien grimaced a little when he imagined wife’s reaction. She could be fearsome sometimes. He had to bear the brunt of that fury before plenty enough times, so he knew what he was talking about.
Soon, there were footsteps on the corridor.
The sound reverberating told him a few things about the visitors; one, the unknown people were wearing traveling boots meaning they weren’t local, and two, this seemed like an official matter, the urgency of the each steps transmitting the intent quite well. And then there were the trained-ness to them, a certain orderliness, inherent to certain types of Capital-bred nobility.
Damien felt like sighing again. Whatever this was, it wasn’t going to be nice. His instincts told him so.
The footsteps stopped before the office’s door, and a light knock followed.
“M’lord, riders from the Capital Argos has arrived, seeking your audience.” Rosy declared from beyond the door.
“Enter,” Damien gave the permission. This exchange tired him already; why did the nobility find the need to go through the time consuming ritual just to receive someone? What a bother it was. But to establish the official tone of the meeting, even Rosy knew this had to be done.
In through the open door, three figures entered the office.
In front, a familiar face of a young village guard named Vagas, who was a part of group Damien had personally trained in swordsmanship last year. He was an earnest man, no, make that a boy, who Damien thought of having some decent talent if he worked harder. However there was no getting around the fact the dude looked the part of a country bumpkin. Oh well.
Behind Vagas, a refined man in his early thirties and a tall woman with a self-important, uptight facial expression. The man wore an excessive mantle slung around his shoulders, while the woman had a navy blue colored hood. There were light covering of dust over their shoulders, a clear signs of hard riding.
Damien kept his gaze on the pair, thinking if he’d seen them before somewhere; not likely, but possible, seeing that he’d gone to many, many places during his days as an Adventurer.
Failing to recall their faces, Damien then proceeded to ascertain several information regarding the unknown visitors.
He noticed that the man was a noble, or at least employed by one of a very high rank judging by the attire and the confident gait. The woman didn’t seem like one however, but her posture made him wonder.
The grip of the sword on the man’s hip showed he was a capable swordsman, or at least he handled it for a while.
The woman certainly possessed the confident aura of someone who had an absolute belief in her abilities, while the man, of the authority he carried.
And finally, the condescending facial expression etched on the man’s face as he surveyed Damien’s cramped and disorganized office foretold this meeting wasn’t going to be full of happy handshakes.
To make the matter worse, the man’s mantle was engraved with the seal of the Imperial Institute. Damien’s face cramped up slightly at that. What were the odds.
“Sir Damien, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance. I am Sir Jonas Bremble, serving under His Holy Grace Marquis Phillips. This is Lady Helga Hans-Struck, a Journeyman-ranked Invoker, certified by the Society of Invocational Research.”
The cloak wearing man, Jonas, did a simple curtsy and made his greeting. The woman remained still, not bothering to change her stance.
Releasing the cramped expression Damien tried his best to smile magnanimously.
“Welcome to the village of Riverfield, Sir Jonas and Lady Helga. It must have been a tiresome journey. Have you had a chance to rest?” While saying so, Damien signaled to Vagas, telling him that he’d take it from here.
“I’ll be right outside, sir,” Vagas waved his hand in a country bumpkin way, which as a matter of fact he was, and left the office while closing the door behind him. Rosy remained in order to pour the refreshments for the guests.
“Now, what do I owe this pleasant surprise to?” Damien maintained the smile as he offered them seats. Unfortunately only one chair was free, with stacks of parchments and documents resting on top of others.
Jonas glanced at Kain disinterestedly once, and took the chair for himself, leaving Helga to stand around.
That was to be expected; Jonas had a higher social standing, and therefore he had the right to take it first, chivalry be damned.
Kain at that moment thought the man, who said his name was Jonas, was an ass, not caring to offer a seat to a woman – which would’ve been a common courtesy. And his facial expression was one of someone who didn’t even know what he had done, nor did he care.
Meanwhile, Damien was thinking furiously about the letter he just had crumpled and tossed away; he was trying to remember just where it dropped among the pile of documents on the floor.
“Forgive my unannounced intrusion, but we’ve come with the express wishes of His Grace to find the amount of progress that have been made regarding the reclamation of the item, Aerinite, mentioned in the missive that was sent to you.”
Rosy poured the still-warm tea on spare cups, while giving her employer a quick glance. Damien said his thanks, and waited until she also left the office.
“Ah, that,” Damien finally nodded. “As you can see, I am swarmed with work. There haven’t been a chance to write a reply yet – the item hunt isn’t going to take place, I’m afraid. My decision.”
“Lord Damien, that is a rather unexpected, and somewhat unfortunate answer.”
Jonas’s lips curled disapprovingly. He didn’t even try to disguise his displeasure.
Damien observed Jonas for a second, and continued to speak while shrugging his shoulders. He did it knowing how much the nobles hated that gesture.
“Well, there are various circumstances. The folks in the Capital City of Argos may not think much of it but, out here in the sticks, there are other matters that require the funds more urgently. It makes no sense to send out expeditionary forces on a whim for some phantom material I’ve never even heard of.”
“My lord, it wasn’t decided on a whim. The researchers and several top Adventurers have confirmed Aerinite’s existence.”
Damien thought Jonas’s face was getting heated up. Regardless of Jonas’s position, it was quite likely below that of Damien’s peerage, which happened to be that of a Baron. Although he never acted like one so people around him tend to forget that fact, but that also didn’t mean Jonas could afford to be rude to a man with a superior standing in the confusing hierarchy of power in the Empire.
So all he could do was to hold his anger in. Knowing this, Damien pushed a bit more.
“You probably know about my past exploits, yes? I’ve been a registered, ranked Adventurer since the age of twelve. I’ve traversed many terrains, and explored my fair share of Sacred Acres. Yet I’ve never come across something called Aerinite. Not even once.”
“My lord, it exists. I can personally vouch that it’s real.”
It was now the turn of Helga to speak. Contrary to her stiff upper-lip visage and the tall, lanky height, she had a soft and almost little girl-ish voice. Damien thought he was being tricked by some sort of an Invocation to hide her real appearance.
“It may be rude to say, but I do not know you. It’s all good and well to say this Aerinite is real, but for one, you do not know whether this item can be found within the Sacred Acre of this territory.”
Damien quickly recovered from the surprise, and countered. Then he waited for a beat, and interrupted Helga who was about to speak again.
“Of course, I’m not averse to the idea. But there’s currently no leeway to hire manpower to explore a Sacred Acre which I was personally involved in clearing out a few years ago.”
A Sacred Acre? Kain tilted his head slightly. He had heard of this term before, and even knew the spelling of it, as it was written in the storybook in the nursery. From what he was able to gather, it seemed this Acre thing was the unique term used to describe a dungeon, or a labyrinth.
He was somewhat upset at the fact that earlier on Damien used his superior physical strength to take away the book on magic. The old bestiary was the only thing that barely kept him from venting out his frustration on his current father.
But now, with the arrival of these uptight people, he was beginning to hear some funny stuff all of a sudden.
Damien was an Adventurer? Wow. If true, then that kinda makes sense, doesn’t it? He’s athletic, got a stash of dangerous looking weapons in the house, and he trains every morning, swinging that wooden sword of his like a possessed man.
Kain felt a new found respect for him rising deep inside. He wasn’t just some country bum taking it easy after all.
But this business about a Sacred Acre interested him a lot. To think, a dungeon capable of producing untold riches was nearby. But that was in a video game, and this happened to be reality. The way Damien was saying he cleared it, it sounded like the Acre no longer held any value, monetary or otherwise.
This talk about Aerinite though. Was that some kind of treasure? Since this was a fantasy world, it wouldn’t have been too surprising to learn there were gemstones Kain’ve never even heard of before in the previous world. But whatever it was, Damien the experienced Adventurer was saying he didn’t know of it, and if that’s the case, he had to wonder if there were some other hidden reason why these two stiff upper lipped people came here for.
Damien too, was suspecting something fishy was happening here; the way this Helga woman was insisting made him think that this Aerinite or whatever was indeed a real thing. She didn’t seem like the sort to lie. Besides, he also saw no point in creating an official letter just to print a scam on it and leave it be as an evidence of malicious intent to damage relations.
The biggest reason for the slight disquiet in Damien’s heart was the fact that it barely had been two weeks since he had received the request letter. Yet, there they were, the pair of Jonas and Helga right in front of him, trying to get him to get a move on.
If the Institute’s head researchers and Marquis Phillips didn’t believe in the significant chances of the material being available in this territory’s Sacred Acre, then these two wouldn’t have come.
With this line of thought emerging, it became increasingly difficult for Damien to keep a straight face.
He started seeing a way to take advantage of the situation. This matter seemed like a god-send opportunity, to wring out some much needed financial concessions off the fat cats sitting pretty in the Capital.
“So, Sir Jonas, why is the sudden need for this Aerinite? And what makes you so sure my Sacred Acre has it?”
Damien deliberately emphasized ‘my’ part. It didn’t matter whether he was being sneered upon with contempt or not, the fact remained that Riverfield and its surrounding areas were under his lordship. No one, save for the Emperor himself, could march into his territory willy-nilly and do whatever they pleased. That would amount to declaring war.
“For now, I’m not at liberty to say. But I assure you, it is for the good of the Empire.” Jonas shook his head. “As for this territory’s Sacred Acre, it fits the profile perfectly. The researchers of the Institute have identified Acres with a high probability of containing Aerinite ores. Yours happen to be one.”
“I see.” Damien sat back on his chair and sipped the now-cold tea.
His cool and apathetic reaction to Jonas’s words brought forth uneasy silence in the room.
Although he didn’t show it outwardly, Jonas was actually pressed for time. There were events afoot at the Institute’s headquarters, and if he failed to secure this chance then surely, all he achieved so far, all he did to climb up to the current position, would be for naught.
And precisely because he had to bring about a favorable result quickly, the direction this talk had taken wasn’t ideal.
Before departing from the Capital, he had done some research on just who Damien was, but that didn’t really prepare him much. From the very beginning, Jonas thought his opponent was a hick, a deadbeat provincial upstart noble with a grimy background.
But here, he was reassessing the situation. Jonas should have considered the fact that, after all, Damien was a Lomax, a member of The Five Founding Families. It didn’t matter that he was only a second son from the branch family Lucius. It also didn’t matter he no longer associated with his greater family.
Just as it was with the other Founding Families, the harsh conditions for survival amid the ceaseless internal conflicts meant he wasn’t short of ideas and of a thick skin. Moreso, in that he was also shaped in the fires of various battlefields as a Gold-ranked Adventurer.
Jonas didn’t come here to antagonize the man, but to earn cooperation; he couldn’t just waltz into a territory of a Lomax as that would only cause troubles for himself, and for his boss.
If that’s the case….
“Well, sir, what if I organize the necessary funds to gather manpower? Will that help you rethink the request?”
Damien leaned back after placing the empty cup down on the tray. He purposely wasted time before answering Jonas.
“It depends. The time frame, potential personnel involved, supplies – none of it are ideal. We are already approaching the fifth month of the year. That means I must hurry and finish the preparations for the upcoming monsoon. That also means the rise in the activity of Fiends so the hiring of soldiers and Adventurers will become harder. It all means, well, more money must be spent.”
“So, it isn’t possible?” Jonas raised an eyebrow.
“No, not necessarily. As I said, it’ll all depend on just how loose you’re with the purse strings.” Damien smiled thinly.
Jonas tried hard to conceal an expression of pure disdain. Again, he told himself not to start a fight with Damien the Baron of the territory surrounding the village of Riverfield. “I have been entrusted with enough funds. It shan’t be an issue then. If settled, I shall depart to Lafayette immediately and make preparations.”
“There’s no need for you to hire people personally,” Damien kept his smile. “I know a few talented individuals who will greatly appreciate finding easy employment. Besides, we should discuss remuneration first before that. It is a given that my forces will have to accompany you and your men, after all.”
This time it was the turn of Jonas to cramp his face a little.
It was unfortunate that Jonas didn’t know of the complicated history between the Marquis, who was the head of the Imperial Institute, and Damien. If he did, the talk might have gone the way he would’ve preferred.
The talks of money made him subconsciously count the amount of Guinea coins he had on person. No doubt, there was a fairly ample funds to draw from, but in truth, the less he spend, the fatter his own purses were to become at the end of the day.
Even Jonas didn’t know why this Aerinite was highly sought after by the Imperial government so suddenly. There were rumors floating around here and there, and he had heard of them but none sounded plausible.
For now, all he did was to follow the orders of the Marquis obediently. So he didn’t know what Aerinite ores looked like; Helga was here for that. She was one of the brightest stars of the Institute’s circle of Invokers, known for her sharp intellect and high class Invocation abilities.
But since she was young and relatively inexperienced, it was easy for Jonas to get her to come with him on this trip. She was an insurance, and she with the eyes of an expert would identify the ores in question.
And he would claim the glory.
The original plan was for him to get the permission to bring in an expeditionary force from Lafayette and explore the nearby Sacred Acre. Maybe six or seven Adventurers of Silver rank or lower would have been sufficient. Jonas was planning to skim off some Guinea off the top during the process too, as the hiring fees were going to be low.
But now, he was sure of Damien taking him to the cleaners. This was not good.
Not like Damien cared about that, however.
He noticed that Jonas hadn’t touched the tea, while Helga was looking at it with a slight hesitation. It seemed she was thirsty but since her superior wasn’t touching his, she couldn’t just reach out for hers, lest she fall foul of the accepted social etiquette.
All Damien could think of was, what a waste of tea. That’s money thrown out the window….
Synopsis: Somewhere in the universe, there was an altar. On it, laid a bloody eye as big as the sun itself. It burst with light and bathed the entire star system in red.
"The aura of an ancestral artifact!" Someone's voice rose in surprise.
The Great Galactic Era had begun.