James relaxed, relieved to finally be resting in a bed at an inn. Still, as usual, there was business to review. He tried to figure out what his next meeting would be like. The Kabali or lizard people who lived under the Marjon Mountain were a loud, annoying and prideful people. Each of them was easily stronger than him in addition to towering over him by at least a few feet when they straightened their backs. The few he had met before this journey had been arrogant fighters, many of them advanced [Warrior]s.
While he had been rather fortunate in that he had managed to contact his crystal supplier in the region to arrange for rooms and a barn for the horses and the wagon before they had arrived, much of those arrangements had been for naught. Unfortunately, the house they had planned to stay in had been destroyed a week ago by a brawl between the resident [Skirmisher] and a wandering [Paladin] and had yet to be rebuilt. Although the victorious [Paladin] had forced the [Skirmisher] to pay for damages, all the money in the world wouldn’t fix a house in a day. Well, that wasn’t exactly true, James mused since a high Level [Mage] or [Builder] could probably manage it within an hour, but they’d also require a much larger payment. Even though he had desperately hoped to have already fallen asleep by the time they arrived, he found himself still awake to witness the door opening and the other three of his party appearing.
Kira jumped toward his legs headfirst and went straight for his belt, much like she had done several times on this trip. However, this time, James caught her before she could finish unbuckling his belt to keep her from showing anything to Diana. He complained, “Kira, what has gotten into you?” James wanted to roar about etiquette and manners, but he knew that she was secretly worried that she would lose him to Diana.
Clawing at his belt, she merely meowed in reply. A moment later he let go and scratched beneath her jaw. As if in a trance, she relaxed and laid her head on his lap. James sighed. Her desire for attention was going to get him in trouble one day. Today though, she became a warm blanket for him as his eyes closed once more. When the knock came from the door, James scowled: he had still been unable to get a single wink of sleep. James secured his belt again while Kira got up and removed her hand from his pants to answer the door. Licking her hand, she twisted the knob to find one of the local residents. This one had a single special trait: large and leathery, his tongue would frequently slip out of his mouth as if to taste the air. Quickly picking up on Kira’s smell, the lizard apologized, “ My apologies, I didn’t mean to interrupt anything. When my sister notified me that this room had been occupied by ya’ll, I came over as soon as I thought you’d be settled in.”
James looked at the Kabali again and sighed. The [Merchant] watched him in concern. The engineer felt victimized. This embarrassing situation had nothing to do with him; it had been all Kira. “It’s fine. Gorgox, correct? Apologies, but we can not identify things through smell like you can.”
Gorgox nodded understandingly. “Of course, I deal with many non-Kabali during the regular course of my business. I fully understand. And, you were correct. My name is Gorgox. My apologies about the state of this house. I have many business colleagues who stay during the year, and the last angered one of the neighbors.”
James smiled, humored upon hearing that. A [Skirmisher] for a “business partner,” ey? “It can’t be helped. Here will do for now.”
Gorgox nodded in relief and finally spotted what he had really come for and quickly moved toward it. Appraising it with his |Merchant’s Eye|, he commented, “I have heard many great things about the magic lanterns you make.”
James rubbed the back of his head, a little bashful. “And as promised. That one is yours. The bag behind it has enough power cores for it to last well over a year.” Gorgox’s tongue extended, showing that he was pleased upon hearing that. No doubt, the suave [Merchant] assumed that James had expected his visit and suspected that James had secretly planted all the little details that he had observed, from the display of his masculinity with Kira to his skill in crafting. Still, Gorgox liked smart partners… they were more interesting and tended to grant more experience. Without waiting to hear another thing, Gorgox grabbed his prize and left James alone with Kira impatiently closing the door behind the Kabali, eager to go back to bed with her master. And so with a few moans and purrs, the pair fell asleep for the night…
“Master, why didn’t you want to go through the tentacle fields when we got underground?”
James tried to maintain a straight face at Kira’s innocent question as the four got ready for the day. Other than the few liters that they had brought with them, they had only received about five liters of water a day for the four of them and buying more would’ve been excessively expensive. After all, water was a commodity to these people who lived in the desert-like underground. One of the reliable methods they used to obtain more of this precious liquid was sending waste to the tentacle fields. Timid plant-like creatures would then purify the waste into drinkable water. However, the method of extracting the water out was somewhat… unusual. Diana noticeably blushed at the question, which James happily latched onto, seeing a way out of the tricky situation. He explained, “Well, Howard is an elderly man. He does not need that kind of stress right now, and Diana is a virgin maiden. They hold such things with a certain dignity, you know.”
Kira rolled her eyes, annoyed. “Her virginity again, Master? It’s always Diana this and Diana that! What about me, Master?”
James observed Kira’s aggravation and knew he had to calm her down. While she probably had the self-control to not enter a Berserk stage, it was never good to test it. He opened his arms toward her, but she refused to enter his embrace. Instead, she sulked while facing him with her arms crossed.
James sighed. Shrugging his shoulders, he admitted, “All right, you got me. The thought of one of those tentacles entering my butt disturbed me.”
Kira looked at him as if that were a bald-faced lie when in fact it was the truth. The whole reason that they had had to take the long way around the swamp was because of this simple fact. However, after a moment, she warmed up to him again and happily moved into his arms. “Oh, I get it! I know you don’t like to think of anyone or thing doing something nasty with me.”
James could not help but smile and kiss the top of her head. “Of course, not without your permission.”
Now that Kira was out of the way, he looked toward Diana. “Gorgox is liable for the wagon, so it’ll remain safe in his care. What are you going to do?” Diana looked at her sword and thought about the warning James had given her about its value. “I’m going to find a spare sword. Many of the arms and armor produced within this city are legendary. Perhaps, I can find something of interest. After that, I’m going to find myself a nice watering hole to wait out the winter.” James figured that that would serve as a fine plan and glanced at Howard. His plan turned out to be similar, but he decided to follow along with Diana to keep her out of trouble. James sighed. These [Warrior]-type classes were all the same: completely pragmatic.
James and Kira arrived where they were to have lunch with Gorgox. He was already sitting down, chowing on a plate of grilled mushrooms and deep-fried larva type insects. Carefully controlling his face, James made sure to maintain a courteous smile even though he was a bit grossed out. Waving, Gorgox signaled the waitress to bring two more plates while the pair took the seats in front of him. Once Gorgox set his fork down, James began, “I was hoping to talk to you about my monthly stock.”
Gorgox signaled that he wished for them to give him a moment as he swallowed his food, following his mighty gulp with a swig of something from the canteen hanging around his neck. After tapping his chest and letting out a gentle belch, he turned to them again. “Apologies, for that and what I say next. You are a newcomer to the market, and I am cutting from my normal supplier duties as it is. Many of the contracts to whom I owe the duties of which I speak have been maintained for generations on both sides. While it has been profitable so far, as it is, I see no longevity to our deal. You humans are famously… forgetful. I mean no offense, you see, but there’s an old Kabali saying that you can only trust another if you can see the end of his tail, and well, humans don’t have tails.” James knew as well as Gorgox that every guild on both sides of the mountain was trying to find out his secrets, not to mention the mountain itself, which was a center for magical enchantments. It was only a matter of time before someone figured it out, and then, his business would quickly face stringent competition that would likely force him out of the market. After all, how could he compete with companies that had existed for centuries?
“I fully understand where you are coming from. However, my business model differs from the competition in that what I am after is not quality or quantity but variety. I have many designs that I haven’t even introduced to the market, so there’s very little possibility of the competition being able to reverse engineer my designs before I can come up with something new. Moreover, I am looking into more complex builds, but the materials I’ve been getting are not adequate for the job.”
Gorgox leaned forward as two more plates similar to Gorgox’s appeared in front of the two. As the two talked, Kira poked one of the larvae. “What do you have in mind?” The Kabali’s tail was still, displaying that the [Merchant] probably had either a lot of experience or a Skill for hiding his inner thoughts. James sighed and picked out a piece of mushroom. Carefully scraping off any vestiges of bug, James said, “ I need some dark crystals. About two hundred. Some water and life ones as well. As many of those as you can give.” before taking a bite.
Gorgox considered the order for a moment before shaking his head. “Sorry, but I cannot fulfill that request. The water ones maybe, but dark and life are a lot rarer and already in high demand. I know that there are already advanced orders for the next ten thousand of both at least.” Gorgox picked up a larva and ate it whole before resting an arm on the table. “However, I may have a way for you to obtain these crystals. There is a contest going on that the war engine [Head Builder] is hosting. The grand prize is a reserved set of fifty thousand elemental crystals as well as several other prizes. I can sponsor you in the build tournament and cover your entry fee.” What was Gorgox’s angle… Briefly wondering whether Gorgox’s schemes could end up harming him, James chewed on his food a little more to think on it. Kira ignored her food, finding holding James arm more pleasurable. “You had this planned from the beginning, didn’t you?” James sighed and stood, pushing away his almost uneaten plate of food.
Beckoning at the waitress, Gorgox cautiously got up as well.
James frowned, wondering whether to test the Kabali’s boundaries. “The sooner I learn of this contest. The sooner I will make my decision.” Tapping Kira on her arm, he turned and left the way they had arrived.