James took a deep breath, dreading what he expected to find. Opening his front door, he saw four young adventurers waiting on his doorstep with Howard wearily sitting on his seat. Ugh. He hated dealing with heroes. They always acted so cliche. The neighborhood kids were one thing to deal with, trained and experienced fighters with Classes another.
Putting on a smile, he greeted, “You all right, Howard?”
Howard waved, trying to catch his breath while James grabbed his oversize hammer from behind the door. Hefting it over his shoulder, he questioned, “Alright, what ridiculous thing do you want for whatever pointless reason I don’t care about?”
After an initially surprised pause, the leader of the group, an average looking soldier, took out a note.
James interrupted, “Is it to hurt something, break through something, or in general make things do-able because I am the only one capable of providing you the means to do it? Speak man; I’m busy. I got a meeting with the queen in an hour.”
James now realized that they already knew his reputation of being a hard-ass. That would make this a fair bit easier. The man hesitated. “Well, we were told you could make us lanterns that would not blow out in the wind and didn’t use magic. We need it for a mission.”
James sighed and set the hammer down. As designed, the front door floorboards bent easily beneath the weight of the hollow hammer, making them think the hammer was much heavier than it actually was.
“All right. First, I need twenty iron ore ingots, five copper ore ingots, and ten thunder crystals. After you get that, I will need a week to make it and a surcharge of…” He paused a moment before smiling slightly. “Let’s say sixty thousand. I’d likely have to put some of my regular client work on hold for this, so I’ll have to give them a discount that you’ll be paying for.” The heroes glanced at one another, worried.
“But, we have a royal writ!” the female adventurer complained.
James took his hammer and slammed the business end against the wall of his shop toward the sign.
“Big deal. Unless the queen herself is paying for it, which I doubt, you’ve got to follow house rules.” They all looked at the sign, which read: “One: all items, objects or things considered the property of the master are protected by the master. If damaged or stolen, the individual or group responsible is subject to the master’s judgment and wrath, so approved and decreed by royal and holy oath. Two: all negotiations done by the master are final and considered absolute. Renegotiation of prices is done at the discretion of the master, so approved in the decree by royal and holy oath. Three: all official Quest items, side or otherwise, cannot be modified or repaired here. Four: I do not buy or sell weapons, armors, or items to those who beat up my security [Knight].”
The heroes took a moment to read that before the sorceress moved forward. “According to that, you can’t sell us the lantern then.” James rubbed the back of his head.
“Not exactly. If you gather the necessary materials for me to make the lantern, and I am turn paid for services rendered, I will make the lantern out of those said materials. After all, you do have a royal writ…”
They all backed away, obviously lacking the materials and funds as James set the hammer inside the doorway and closed the door. At the last moment, he reminded, “Howard, please tell these young people where the mine is when you feel ready. I still have that meeting to get to. I’ll bring Jeffry ‘round.”
Howard waved to him whilst still catching his breath as James put his thumb and forefinger to his lips and loudly whistled. From around the back came a young adult Wyvern that thudded onto the road. The biggest man in the group shivered, amazed. “I think I peed a little. He really is as cool as the stories say.”
James gripped the wyvern’s back as they took to the air. Riding bareback was tolerable; it was only for long trips that you needed a saddle to assure the comfort and well-being of both the rider and mount. After they landed at the stables, James took out a piece of hard candy from his pocket for the wyvern. The large beast so enjoyed the treats that James had created. While one of the [Stablehand] boys led Jeffry to the range to mingle with the other wyverns, James discussed some business with the stable master. It had used to take James hours to climb all the steps and navigate the corridors of the lower levels of the Queen’s fortress home, but with Jeffry, that trip was reduced to a few minutes of flight and a few hundred Seedz to keep him somewhere at the end. Apparently, the [Wyvern Riders] did not mind Jeffry either since he was one of their stock, revealed by the red horn on Jeffry’s nose. He was one of the higher breed’s sons. The story James had been told was that one day after collecting the day’s eggs, one of the new stable boys had left the ‘hen house’ gate open for all the ‘roosters’ to get in. It had taken all the wyvern riders and keepers to regain order. Jeffry’s peerage was a pairing of the prized hen and alpha of the steeds. Honestly, such a noble beast would normally have been a rare pairing saved for only the greatest warriors. Of course, there was no way to know for sure, short of something along the lines of a DNA test, which did not exist in this world. Speaking of which… James noted to check up whether he could look into whether he could find anything similar to that. James considered Jeffry content with his life considering that most would have just cooked him up in his shell and made him the main course for dinner instead of a pet. Shaking the [Stable Master]’s hand and handing him a few Seedz, James took a glance at Jeffry happily frolicking, knowing that the [Stable Master] always tried to convince Jeffry to find a few mates to produce some progeny, and hurried on his own mission.
After the wyvern stable was a hall leading to the front gate where the horses were stabled for the contingent of court [Knights] and [Lords]. He did not like walking by here as horse crap carpeted the ground. He recalled that the first time he had walked through here, he had slipped on a wet pool of fresh waste and landed face first. The memory made James shiver as he made certain he had something within arms reach to grab onto as he moved past the stable.
Further inside the fortress were a few checkpoints before one started entering the court social circles, usually starting with common folk with business or workers in the fortress such as the cooks and maids. After that was the common foot soldiers and then the general guards and sentries. Both groups waved to James as he passed but didn’t do anything to impede his path. After all, he was a rather respected craftsman. Despite not knowing many of their names, he politely waved back. They knew better than to offend him. Both groups enjoyed the contraptions he made for the castle more than the actual queen did, especially the lights and cooking devices. After the soldiers were the trades masters. Normally, he would come here more often, but it was still basically one giant cockfight at times. There were constant explosions and discarded blueprints littered the place. This was not even mentioning the fights: from the stealing of plans to the sabotaging of others. It seemed everyone just wanted to one-up the competition. Someone would make a war wagon, the next moment someone else would build a battering ram, and after that, another would create a catapult. He had to admit, the |building| skills were truly terrifying. It was just one big headache for him. Every time he passed through, there would be some new face that wanted to apprentice under him. He couldn’t really imagine why someone would want to divert levels from their main Class and put it towards a [Apprentice] one, but he never quite understood this world either way. This time though, he successfully slipped through the crowd unnoticed.
In the next area were the [Knights]. For the first time since he had talked to the Wyvern [Stable master], he stopped. A large armored [Knight] dressed in blue with a radiant thunderbolt engraved onto his garment hefted a red sword. James pulled out a banknote and handed it to him.
“This is less than last month,” the man grumbled.
James shook his head. “Can’t be helped. Less power core supplies coming in means I make less. Someone should tell the [Elemental Crystal Harvesters] to get off their a**es. Just ‘cus they have a rare class doesn’t mean they can create some type of artificial monopoly. Hell, send out the rookies if you have to; it’d be a good experience for them. Unless I get those elemental crystals, I can’t make power cores. Hence, less money for the queen.”
The [Knight] growled as several others glanced over at them. James knew that mining required great expertise and drop-hunting was even more dangerous for everyone involved, but that was the life they had chosen; James was not going to let them think they were better than him for it.
“Does she have any requests for me? Any repairs needed?” The [Knight] handed the note to a squire as he growled again. If not for the fact that he had revealed his features by removing his helmet, James would think this towering figure was not human.
“She has no need for your meager services today. Now, away with you.”
James gave a sarcastic “understood” and left the way he came. He had not gone far from the inner castle before an armored [Knight] bumped into him.
“Excuse me,” James said as he caught her shoulder to prevent her from falling. Her face blushed as she looked at him.
“Oh, excuse me as well. I am not from around here and…” She paused, examining his crest. Her eyes widened, and she gasped. “You’re Master James; are you not?” The name caught the ears of many, so James grabbed her hand and dragged her to the next area’s passage before the trade masters could swarm him. As soon as he was away from those chasing him, he caught his breath while leaning against the wall. Taking a furtive glance around himself, he straightened out his clothes to look more presentable.
Her face was bright red as he turned back to her. James apologized, “Sorry about that, it gets harder and harder to keep out of the squabbles and [Apprentice] applicants every time I come to pay my monthly taxes. So, you were looking for me? Well, I am Master James. Please though, call me James.”
Blushing, she coughed and regained her composure, taking her hand out of his embrace and placing it against her breast. “I am Lady Diana Stein Braxa Certious of Howderwhit. I got a letter from my grandfather that said he was living with you. In fact, I was just preparing to request an audience with Baroness Lillian Yuer Thilther to request her guidance to find out where you were staying. ”
James jerked in surprise. “Howard? You’re Howard’s granddaughter?”
She nodded. “ Yes.”
James could see she was flustered and embarrassed. Rubbing the back of his head, he saw the crest on her shoulder, two banner spears standing side by side; she was not even from a neighboring country. He suspected that there would be a long story involved. Well, it wasn’t like he could leave a good friend’s relative alone.
“Do you want to go see him?”
She helplessly nodded.
James quickly led her back through the fortress. The usual hours that would be spent navigating halls and completing checks passed by rather quickly with her company. James suddenly felt that this might be the start of some sort of adventure and felt an emerging migraine.
Leaving the fortress behind them, James walked through the town. He briefly tended to his business while Diana followed behind him. Nevertheless, it was near dark by the time they finished. On the outskirts, James carried a leg of beef on one shoulder and a small sack of flour under the other.
A voice called, “Hey Tom!”
James paused and looked over a fence.
“Oh! Hey, Tom!” While waving, James replied, unable to keep a grin off his face. Diana approached to take a look but quickly retreated from the plant monster ravaging a middle-aged woman’s lower half.
“Hello, to you as well. Any problems at all with the heater I made for you?” Tom calmly replied. Two eyes appeared over the clump of flora to look at James.
“It’s wonderful, Tom. It keeps the room warm enough for us to be together all night long.”
James smiled and shifted the weight on his shoulder. “Just remember to keep track of the lights and let me know if there are any problems. I will leave you and the Missus to your own. Don’t mind me.”
James continued after the monster gave a pleased “Later,” and the woman moaned, her lust controlling her voice. James noticed Diana walked closer to him than before; she seemed to shirk the darker edges of the town. When he got to his place’s hill, Howard was still sitting in his chair as always. James guessed Howard had managed to chase off the heroes then. Thank the gods. James remembered one time a group had camped outside his home for a week until he’d finally given in. Nodding at his security [Knight],
James went inside, leaving the two to talk.
Kira greeted him with a slightly inquisitive gaze. Knowing that she was wondering whether she’d have to take off her [Maid] duties today, he told her, “Jeffry is staying there tonight.”
James grinned as she happily took the leg of beef from him, laying it on the table to take care of later. Her |Advanced Cooking| skill was quite spectacular. He guessed that all the times she’d had to innovate dishes from his world had quickly leveled up her skills. He explained,“The beef is from the butcher and the flour from the bakery. She also promised some bread.” Kira excitedly purred as she checked on dinner. James paused. “Oh yeah, we also have a guest, so I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to make a bit extra.”
Kira examined the soup. “All right. That’s fine.” James smiled again before deciding to check on the two outside.
He exited the front door to find Diana yelling, “But grandfather, we want you back!”
Howard noticed James. “We’ll talk about this later.”
James rubbed the back of his head. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude. Howard, since you do know her, she is free to stay as long as she wants. She can stay in my room tonight since we’ve got nothing else for her.”
Diana interjected, “I do not want to impose.”
James sighed. “Please, I can tell you been having trouble. I know myself how someone so young can find the… culture around here a bit much. However, I think you’ll find this house quite welcoming. As Howard’s friend, it would be an honor to ask for you to stay.”
Diana flushed a little. “You wouldn’t do anything ungentlemanly, would you?”
James shook his head, “Of course, I shall only ever treat you with respect if that is what you are asking about.”