Chapter 36: And the prize is!

Kira, Diana, and Howard gathered around the guest area for the ceremony occurring a month after James had been locked inside the warehouse. Based on the fact that James’s warehouse hadn’t ever started smoking, they weren’t too concerned about his safety despite how trouble often seemed to follow him. To be honest though, by this point, the two young women were dying for something interesting to happen since their month in the underground city had been rather drab, or rather, Kira was very eager to meet a certain body part of James… 

Though due to the often secretive nature of the best projects, it was not like they were going to be able to see any of the creations made since many industrial [Guild Master]s watched while lazily sipping some of the free drinks in order to snap up any especially promising [Mechanic]s or inventions. Nearby, Gorgox also waited while reading over the pamphlets handed out by the [Aide]s and [Servant]s, eager to find any clues about the results. Considering he had something to gain from the contest, it made sense that he was a bit jittery. Every few minutes, he would jump up and pace around the area. Kira kept an eye on him. He had not crossed any lines of decency with her, but he had come close to them a few times. Even if he was hosting them, she wanted absolutely nothing intimate with him. 

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The judges came out of the warehouse labeled six, and after some discussion gave a point list to an [Aide] nearby keeping the scores. As with the previous warehouses, the first of those who had spent a month inside to come out was the leader of the building project who presented some blueprints to be reviewed as he told the judges what he had built with the help of the [Apprentice]s. He was the third to build an enchanted battering ram; in fact, most of the previous five warehouses had been an assortment of basic siege weapons modified with some small twists. There was some eye rolling from the judges, and they did not take long with their questioning of the [Apprentice]s for foul play and their examination of the admittedly basically enchanted ram. After all, it was highly unlikely he would win either way. The lion-man in warehouse four had completed a rather impressive shadow ward that negated the need for sacrificial soldiers to move the ram since the ram would deflect most projectiles capable of obstructing it and a small rocket at the back would power it through most gates far faster than low level [Warrior]s. Then, they jotted down some notes and moved to the next warehouse, leaving a disappointed [Mechanic] behind.  

Almost an hour later, Gorgox became even more nervous as James emerged from his warehouse. He had a whole folder’s worth of blueprints for the judges. Gorgox seemed to calm some as they entered the warehouse to examine the invention further and interview the apprentices. Unlike the previous two warehouses, they stayed a while. Kira moved to Diana; she was a little worried as well. “I wonder if Master is all right. Do you think everything went okay?”

 Diana looked at her and put a gentle hand on her shoulder. “Master James is a wise man with wisdom far beyond mine. They are most likely stunned by the marvelous invention he made.” Still, Diana’s grip was a bit harder than she’d intended. 

Kira smiled happily and took the [Knight]’s arm and held it close. Diana was used to the move by now as without James, Kira had grown further attached to the young [Knight]. After all, the young Hersha had… urges. Diana had to admit to herself that at the very least, the catgirl’s cheerful demeanor and helpful attitude was very nice, despite her clingy tendencies. It was as if she hated being alone. Thinking on it a little, Diana noticed that all Hersha were like that, but she’d always explained it away as them being mere slaves or pets. However, Kira was clearly free, so it was a little bit strange that the catgirl continued to act like that, but Diana decided to follow up on it at another time. 

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Diana could not help but smile at her, not noticing Howard who was smiling while watching the two interact. Turning away before Diana could spot him, Howard straightened his back in pride. His grand-daughter was growing up. Instead, he walked toward one of the human [Merchant]s watching the proceedings, grabbing a lemonade along the way. He’d spent much of the past month exchanging stories with the portly man who’d once served as a [Sergeant] in the armies fielded against the Dark Lord. While Howard hadn’t known of such a lowly figure, the [Sergeant] had immediately recognized the old [Knight] in a bar and paid for a round of drinks, beginning a friendship that had burgeoned over the past month. 

Meanwhile, Diana’s smile faded, to be replaced with a grim line as one of the judges came out alone and went to the scorekeeper. She looked down and was surprised to see Kira’s claws gripping onto her own hands, drawing a bit of Diana’s blood. The two warily watched the proceedings, refusing to miss a single detail that they could use to prove had biased the competition against James. After all, while they were confident in James, they knew that the Kabali might try to cheat him out of the crystals or something… 

Instead of being given a score to take record of, the [Aide] was told something that sent him running to the host table where Kornor as well as six other [Craftingmaster]s and their guests sat. That area quickly emptied as all the senior [Craftingmaster]s nearly sprinted to warehouse eight. With a murmur passing through the watching crowd, the guest area soon followed, including Kira, Diana, and Gorgox. Howard elected to stay behind with his friend, claiming he had already seen enough wonders in his lifetime and would anyway be too frail to be in a large group like that. Behind them were the general watchers, [Apprentice]s, and staff of the event. Surprisingly, even the [Guard]s around the warehouse who would normally prevent people from entering were too curious to prevent others from creeping in. Within a minute, it seemed like half the pavilion had squeezed into James’s warehouse eight. 

James stood by a pedestal with a button on top of it as it seemed like everyone in the city came into the warehouse. In the very front was Kornor who was looking at the assortment of tracks and other things behind James. James takes a deep breath and offered for Kornor to push the button, but a female Kabali at his side moved forward and pushed it instead. The button first released a string holding a barricade in place to prevent a ball from falling onto the track. Then, the ball slowly rolled over the first trigger of the track. This trigger cut another string that spanned the length of the track in order to keep a stick held over a pit filled with wood. Attached to the stick was a small cup of liquid that doused the unlit wood. The cup hit a lever that sent a weight up a string track through a counterweight on the other side of a wheel like a pulley. Attached to the wheel was a flint stone that started spinning and scraped a piece of iron, causing sparks. As soon as the sparks hit the fire pit, a fire roared into being. All the while this went on, the ball that started this first event had already started two more: one cut a loaf of bread into slices and pushed the slices onto a stove top over the fire pit while the other cracked eggs and poured them into molds specifically embedded within the same stove top, with some bacon added from the next sequence. The ball accelerated before hitting a switch that changed the track, allowing the ball to stop onto a crane scoop. The water kettle that was now boiling above the fire pit soon started to steam. By releasing that steam into a catch, it triggered the crane to move the ball back to where it had started. This time, the triggers only moved the food to its final destination of four plates, which had gone unnoticed till then. 

An observant [Mage] would have noticed the small discharge from a black box at the box that no doubt powered many of the more physics-defying movements. James grabbed one of the plates and offered it to a female judge. “Hungry?” As he said that, the ball reached its final destination, dropping tea leaves into the boiling water for a few seconds before lifting them out again. After repeating that a few times, the whole machine finally stopped. Pouring the tea within the kettle into four dainty teacups, James smiled. “I present to you the Rube-Goldberg machine!”

 


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