“Ashfire Bees, huh?”
Selys shook her head as she left the Adventurer’s Guild. She’d put in her time; it was past midday, which meant she’d been working for nine hours. That also meant she’d been at the Adventurer’s Guild since dawn, but that was the life of a [Receptionist].
“Yeah. It was surprising. I didn’t know it would be so—tough—”
Maviss, walking out besides Selys, had to cover a huge yawn. She wasn’t done yet; it was just her halftime lunch break. She shook her head, her tail lazily trailing in the street behind her. That was Maviss for you; she’d spent all the time in the world working on her scales, but she’d drag her tail in mud if she was sleepy.
“Sorry. I didn’t know the Horns and the Silver Swords would struggle so much.”
“Swarm monsters surprise adventurers. Unless they’re prepared or well-rounded, they can get into lots of trouble. That’s why we’re told not to recommend nest assignments to teams with all-[Warrior] makeups. Not unless they have magical items or artifacts.”
“Mhm. I don’t ever recommend things to the teams that come in. I’m too tired.”
“Well, you’ve got four hours left. Don’t fall asleep just yet. I’m off.”
Selys was decidedly unsympathetic. Maviss shook her head, yawning again.
“How do you do it, Selys? I couldn’t do the overnight shift.”
“Years of practice. Besides, it’s Guild policy. A [Receptionist] has to be on call at all hours, even if the Guild has times when it’s closed.”
“I guess that makes sense. But we barely have enough to cover all the shifts! Ever since those two newbies quit…is Tekshia going to hire more?”
Selys grimaced. The tip of her tail slapped the cobblestones.
“She’s looking. But we need more room in our budget.”
“Whaaaat? But all that treasure from the dungeon—”
“We’re not operating under Human laws, Maviss. Liscor’s Adventurer’s Guild gets a budget. Our cut goes to Liscor’s treasury, not the Guild vaults. Which we don’t have. We get a safe and the money from the Raskghar and other dungeon expeditions will probably go to fixing the gates, the walls, paying for soldiers who got hurt or died…”
“So you’re saying we won’t get new replacements.”
“Let’s just say ours isn’t the most lucrative job around. Although it beats some. We’ll get more people in, and if we do, Grandma will give us vacations. Once they’re trained.”
Swish, swish. Maviss’ tail was picking up dust. Selys glanced at it. As Erin had learned, you could tell how Drakes and Gnolls were feeling depending on how their tails moved. It did vary from person to person, but some signs were universal. And Maviss’ tail said she wasn’t really upset so much as very, very sleepy.
“Get some tea or you’ll fall asleep at the desk. You’re the only one working until Warsh comes in.”
“Yes, mom. Hey, do you want to have lunch together?”
“Sorry, I had a big snack an hour ago.”
“Oh. Then I’ll see you tomorrow. Hey, is it three thousand—”
Selys walked off. Maviss called something at her back, and Selys waved a hand. She wasn’t mad, really. But she knew that telling Maviss exactly how much money she had would be trouble. Not least because all of it was stored in the bottom of her dresser in her apartment. Any [Thief] would jump at the chance to rob Selys. Because Selys was rich.
A week ago, Jelaqua had walked into Selys’ small apartment and given her a share of the treasure she’d earned from the dungeon. It was the Drake’s cut of the profits for letting the Halfseekers use the Heartflame Breastplate. It wasn’t a third of the Halfseekers’ take like Selys had initially tossed out as an offer, but it was still a percentage. And that percentage had appeared in the form of enough gold to knock Selys out.
Literally. She’d woken up to Jelaqua pouring water on her face. Selys had gotten a cold from that, but the sight of a pile of glittering gold pieces had alleviated her suffering. Mostly. She’d also turned into a Level 8 [Heiress] as well, but she hadn’t gained a Skill. Another mixed blessing.
As for how much money Selys had, well, the answer was that she had a good bit more than three thousand gold coins. Maybe as many as six thousand, and it was actually starting to worry her a bit. Her apartment floor might actually cave in from the weight. So Selys’ first job on the day off was to store her money.
The problem was that Selys didn’t know how much a bag of holding cost, she didn’t know how to carry that many coins with her without one, and she didn’t know how much money she had. She knew how much Jelaqua had given her, but some of Ilvriss’ money had joined the pile quite recently.
He’d rented the Heartflame Breastplate after the Halfseekers and before he’d left in secret to return to his home, he’d sent one of his aides to pay Selys the fee. Which was more gold than she’d earn in a year. But on top of the money Jelaqua had given her it had seemed almost paltry, more money to join the pile. Selys had stared at it and tried counting. She’d made fifteen stacks before she just gave up.
And that was the thing. Selys might have been a Drake, a member of a species descended from Dragons, but she’d realized that having a lot of gold was really like having a lot to eat. It was great if you were hungry, but once you were full, it just looked like…stuff. And now she was rich, money had lost its value for her.
“I’m no hoarder, like Grandma can be. But I don’t know what to do with what I have. Look at that.”
Selys paused on her way down the street. The area around the Adventurer’s Guild catered to their kind, so there were [Shopkeepers] selling goods made by [Blacksmiths], [Alchemists], [Fletchers], [Carpenters], and more. Some shops were multi-purpose, others carried a specific set of items, like the shop she was walking past that had every kind of weapon on display. Selys saw iron mixed with steel weapons, all fairly sharp, as well as a small selection of potions in bottles. A Gnoll was browsing as the Drake [Shopkeeper] tried to close the sale.
“I could buy a dozen of that shop’s best steel weapons. Eight times. And I’d still have more money than Maviss ever had in her life.”
Selys shook her head. She walked by another shop and her eye caught a gaudy protective charm. Something to deflect blows? It was probably only good for a hit or two from something small; deflection charms were usually weak, according to Tekshia. And the bad ones were poor at sensing what was an attack; you could deplete them by stepping too hard or jumping.
But she could buy it. She could buy a magical artifact with the gold she had. Most Silver-ranks wouldn’t have as much gold as Selys before they hit Gold-rank. With this, she could actually become an adventurer. And she had the Heartflame Breastplate—or rather, it was being stored in the Watch Barracks until Selys could find someone to rent it. She could practically become a Silver-rank adventurer if she outfitted herself. If she wanted to…
Selys had once wanted to be an adventurer. Before she’d learned how dangerous that was, and how unglamorous. Her grandmother had talked her out of it, really, by telling Selys stories of her past. And Selys had to admit, she wasn’t talented. Her uncle, the famous [General] had taught her a few claw-fighting tricks.
Her grandmother had taught her how to use a spear and a sword. Selys had learned, but she’d never grown adept at any of those fighting styles. She wasn’t talented, which Tekshia had said could be made up for, but it meant Selys was disadvantaged. That had been enough for the young Drake girl.
And the adult had seen war. So no adventuring. But what else was money good for? Fancy things like Maviss had said? Jewelry? Magical items? All of that appealed to Selys, but now that she had money, she didn’t have anything she wanted to spend it on that much. She’d rather have the gold than regret spending it.
“Oh no. I am hoarding.”
Selys groaned. That was one of the classic symptoms! Being a miserly Drake who couldn’t spend so much as a copper coin. She struck her head lightly with the heel of her palm, then heard someone shouting her name!
“Selys! Hey, Selys! Are you off work?”
The Drake looked around. She brightened up as she saw three of her friends, Mica, Warsh, and Lellia coming towards her. Mica was a Gnoll [Clerk], Warsh was a Drake [Receptionist] working at the Guild like her, and Lellia was a [Spinner] apprenticing in a [Tailor]’s shop. Selys hung out with them quite often, but she knew a good number of people her age in Liscor. Some, like Drassi, were old friends, or co-workers like Maviss. But this group Selys had known since she was running around the streets as a hatchling.
“Warsh, how are you doing? Hello, Mica, Lellia. You dyed your fur?”
She looked at Mica. The edges of the Gnoll’s dark fur around the side of her face, normally a dark brown, were blonde. The Gnoll preened and smiled as the three stopped in the street to chat.
“That’s right. I got the edges dyed yesterday. What do you think? They look good, yes?”
“Yeah. Very…attractive! I like the way it stands out. But won’t it get you in trouble with your boss? I mean, at the store?”
Selys eyed Mica. The Gnoll was a [Clerk], who, like a [Receptionist], [Waiter], and so on, could fill a lot of jobs. Mica was employed running the counter at a [Shopkeeper]’s store who dealt in produce, which was one of Liscor’s only exports.
The city mainly imported goods; it was subsidized in no small part by the army’s mercenary work and the area had some natural resources, but nothing dramatic like Pallass’ ore mines or Oteslia’s huge agricultural industry. However, shops like the one Mica’s employer ran were important; they had preservation runes and could store food for a long time.
They were the closest things to the grocery stores Erin talked about. Some didn’t even bother with stores; they kept warehouses and let other [Shopkeepers] buy from them in bulk. That was how business was done in Liscor; artisans didn’t sell their goods personally like in Celum and northern cities. They went through [Shopkeepers] and thus they could rely on middlemen to handle the cutthroat business of business while doing their work.
“Oh, that old place? The owner pitched a fit so I quit. I hated working there anyways. He was always telling me to sweep up after myself. As if I can help shedding! And I never got any fur in the food.”
Mica waved a paw in disgust. Selys nodded, but she wondered if that was a good move. [Clerks] weren’t exactly in high demand in Liscor. At least, at the level Mica was at—Level 14—they weren’t. She was a Level 6 [Washer] and a Level 3 [Sweeper] too, which didn’t exactly help out much.
“Well, if you’re happy, that’s fine. Hey, I’m off work. Maviss’ pretty tired Warsh, so I wouldn’t be late or she’ll rip off your tail. I was going shopping.”
“Hey, why don’t we come with you? I could buy some trinkets.”
Lellia eagerly offered and Warsh and Mica nodded. Selys hesitated.
“Well, you probably won’t want to go where I’m going. I’m checking out the [Merchants]—the pricey ones, you know? So…”
The eyes of all three of her friends sharpened. There were [Traders] and [Merchants] in Liscor, but only a few dealt in expensive objects and demanded gold. Warsh looked at Mica and Lellia.
“Why don’t we come with anyways? I have a bit of gold.”
“If you want.”
Selys awkwardly motioned and the other three fell into step with her. It wasn’t that Selys didn’t want to talk with them—it was just it was going to be awkward buying a bag of holding with them in tow. And it was also strange that they were all here. Mica usually had her job, which made sense, but Warsh slept in until it was his shift on a working day. As for Lellia, she didn’t get out nearly as much as the other two.
“So, how have you all been? I mean, since the other day?”
They’d had a huge party at the Tailless Thief just the other day. Selys had spent far too much and woken up with a terrible hangover. Mica pointed at her fur.
“I just helped sew up a few dresses. You know.”
Lellia dismissively flicked her tail. Warsh, walking ahead of Selys, grinned.
“And I work at the Guild. Nothing interesting anymore. Just those Gold-rank teams coming in and going out, always covered in mud. Except for the Wings of Pallass. Those are some sleek Drake ladies, and the Garuda is—”
He cut off as the other three all glared at him. Warsh coughed, blushing slightly.
“What about you, Selys?”
“Oh, nothing much.”
“Aw, come on. Nothing? What about your crazy Human friend?”
“Erin? I haven’t talked to her in a bit. She’s in Pallass.”
Lellia oohed appreciatively.
“Why didn’t you go with her?”
Selys made a face. That was what Maviss had said!
“I don’t want to. Her door can’t take many people and besides, what does Pallass have?”
“Um, everything? It’s a Walled City, Selys.”
“I guess. And Erin did invite me. But it was the way she said it! ‘Pallass has cooler things than Liscor, Selys. It’s way more exciting. Come on, you can meet so many cool people there!’ Can you believe that?”
Warsh looked at Mica. The Gnoll raised her brows.
Selys looked at her friends. Lellia laughed.
“You’re like my Dad, Selys. Liscor isn’t better than Pallass! If I could have gone, I would have.”
“What’s wrong with liking Liscor?”
Selys blushed a bit and grumbled as her friends laughed. First hoarding and now civic pride? She was turning into an old Drake! She quickened her pace and turned left. It wasn’t far from the Adventurer’s Guild—the street she wanted, Trader’s End, was just a bit north and east of her position.
There was no need for Selys or her friends to ask directions where they were going. They knew Liscor by heart, and so they came to the wide street quite quickly. It was like and unlike Market Street, which Erin frequently visited. In truth, the Human girl had never come here. And why would she? Unless she were exploring, Krshia could handle all of her immediate shopping needs.
But by the same token, it meant Erin didn’t really know Liscor, for all that she’d lived in the city for so long. And if she had, perhaps she wouldn’t have so flippantly written Liscor off, at least in Selys’ opinion. The Drake inhaled the smell of spices, saw the huge caravans, a rolling wagon parked in the street, a few [Merchants] sitting and drinking with customers at small tables, [Guards] watching passersby with care and boredom written across their faces…this was Trader’s End.
“Pallass is more exciting, honestly, Erin…”
The little street wasn’t a one-way street. Nor was it filled with [Traders]. They tended to be crowded out, unless Liscor was blocked off. But with the spring had come [Merchants], and they liked to have a place to conduct business. So any caravan selling up-scale goods would stop here for a day or two, and any wealthy socialite or someone with extra gold to spare might visit. Selys had only bought from this street once, but she liked to visit.
And if Erin had ever known of this street, or come across it by chance, she might have met more of her kind. For there were Human [Merchants] aplenty. At least, in the spring. In the winter it was true that few Humans visited Liscor; Drakes took the opportunity to come north from the Blood Fields. But with the aforementioned fields being active in the spring and summer, it was time for Humanity to pour in.
“There are even more [Merchants] than usual. Think they’re here because of all the adventurers?”
“Of course, scales-for-brains. Why else would they make the journey? They’re not going south. And look, some are selling fabrics from the north! That looks like a Balerosian print! Selys, come see!”
Selys looked over. The first [Merchant] Lellia was pointing to was indeed selling bolts of fabric, ready to be cut out by a [Seamstress] and sewn into a work of art. The patterns were indeed beautiful and colorfully dyed—a waving, blue and red pattern separated by a white stripe. If you looked closely you could see there was a second pattern in the blue and red, smaller triangles of darker thread that looked magnificent. The [Merchant] was pointing it out with evident satisfaction. Selys gulped. That would make a great dress, and it was high-quality cotton, practical for wearing, not just fancy to-dos. But if you wanted to turn that into a dress for nights out…
“No touching, please, ladies!”
The [Merchant] had two big [Guards], both Gnolls, blocking the bolts of cloth. He was a Human with a bit too much weight and an older man’s paunch, but a quite thick and glorious head of hair and a shining jade amulet that spoke to anyone with an eye for trinkets. He was dressed just as colorfully as his wares, and Selys bet he’d done it to impress. Drakes liked flash and so more than one female Drake was crowded around. A few Gnolls too, eying the fabrics the man was showing off.
“Please, buying customers only!”
He gently but politely shooed off a few Drakes with questions, calmly noting the cut of their own dresses and jewelry. His wave took in Selys, Lellia, and Mica who’d joined the group. Warsh rolled his eyes. The [Merchant] had a little cup of wine in hand and a carafe of the stuff at his table but no client—it was a tactic Selys was familiar with. He’d invite someone who could probably pay to sit down and drink with him. At the level of a [Merchant], business was as much being social as it was having something to sell.
“Selys, what do you think? Wouldn’t that look amazing on you? And it’s not a tricky cloth. My teacher could whip up a dress in a few days! What do you think?”
Lellia was urging Selys to investigate the cloth. And it did call to Selys. She wondered what the price was. A hundred gold coins? For the entire cloth bolt, maybe. It couldn’t be two hundred, could it? And she could sneeze two hundred gold pieces out and not blink! Having the dress made would be even cheaper. She hesitated. But she didn’t have the gold on her, which reminded her why she’d come.
“Miss Gnoll, would you like to inspect my cloths? I have quite the selection! More still in my wagons! Please, come and have a drink. Ladies, please, a few steps back for my guest!”
The [Merchant] had spotted a rich-looking Gnoll in the back. He waved and the [Guards] came forwards, parting the onlookers and escorting a Gnoll who was wearing a very light, very stylish sarong-style dress, with a cut shirt that let her arms breathe around the shoulders and sides while still covering her arms and the rest of her body. It was a look Gnolls could pull off better than Drakes and Humans; they had hair to hide what would be too much flesh or scale to modestly reveal. Lellia sighed as Selys turned away.
“I’m not here for clothes. Maybe I’ll take a look later. Warsh, do you see anyone selling magical goods?”
“Who isn’t? But there’s a few of them selling goods for adventurers. Want to see? They’ve got a fancy magic sword! It’s freezing the bucket of water solid!”
“Is that all boys like? Gnolls and Drakes. You’re a [Receptionist], Warsh!”
Mica called out after him. Selys followed the Drake down the street. She saw there were more [Merchants] with magical items gathered around there. One of them, a Human in his late thirties, was lounging against the side of his wagon, taking his ease. The side of the wagon had unfolded, displaying a trove of objects of all kinds. Bags of holding, never-dip quills, cooling stones, rarer potions…there was a harried younger [Trader] doing the work of answering questions in front of the display and four [Guards] standing around the wagon. Selys stood on her tip toes to look. Mica poked her gently.
“What do you think? Will you buy anything? What did you come here for?”
“Uh, maybe. I don’t know, though. That’s a lot of gold to spend and I didn’t bring any…”
“Oh come on, Selys. You’re loaded! You can spend some, yes? And then why don’t we get some cloths like Lellia suggested? We can have her master make them into dresses and go to a party. Why not tonight?”
Selys frowned. Were there bags of holding in the wagon? Then she looked at her Gnoll friend, confused.
“Dresses? But that’s way too expensive, Mica. And you just quit your job.”
“Well…but we could go together. Why not? At least let’s go for some drinks after this. Come on.”
There was something—off about the way Mica was speaking. Her tone was wheedling. Selys half-looked at her, and something in her head lit up. Did Mica think…?
Unbeknownst to Selys, the [Merchant] yawning as he sat by his wagon had sat up suddenly. He couldn’t have heard Selys or Mica speaking. They were too far away and he wasn’t listening. But he sat up nonetheless, and his eyes locked on Selys. He got up as Selys turned to face her friend.
“Mica, do you want me to buy you a dress?”
“What? No. I didn’t—it would just look good on you. And me and Lellia, yes? Right?”
Mica laughed, but her tail, which Selys had been watching, suddenly went very still. Lellia, who’d been pointing out an item to Warsh, looked up.
“But you can’t pay for something like that. So I should pay for it?”
“Only if you want to. I mean, it would look good.”
Selys nodded slowly.
“It would. But that’s one fabric. And three of us dressed the same might look…tacky?”
“Just a bit! But hey, it would be really cool, wouldn’t it?”
Lellia came over. Selys looked at her smile and took a breath. She forced a smile onto her face.
“Yeah, but if we were doing it, wouldn’t it be better to have three dresses? Each one different?”
“But I can’t afford that. So…I mean, it would be up to you. But it would look really good at party, wouldn’t it, Selys?”
Mica grinned hopefully. Selys nodded, and inside her stomach began to twist.
“It would. But for what party? We had one just the other day.”
“But the Tailless Thief is open all the time, Selys. And Peslas was a great host. Why not visit there again after this? Or—we could visit one of the bars. There’ll be a great troupe at the Wishdrink’s tonight. We could go dancing there, with you, us, and some of the others. They’d all be down for that.”
Warsh cut in, and Lellia and Mica nodded excitedly. Lellia leaned on Warsh’s shoulder, speaking faster and gesturing at the [Cloth Merchant]
“I bet my teacher could even cut some dresses out and sew them up if it was a priority order, Selys.”
The Drake [Receptionist] looked at her friends. Wishdrink’s was a very expensive bar, which was to a ‘bar’ what the Tailless Thief was to an ‘inn’. It was very upscale and not only were the drinks fantastic, you could dance, eat well, and have a great night out. If you had money to spend. Selys had never been there. And she suspected the others hadn’t been there more than once or twice at a bigger party.
“I don’t know.”
“Aw, come on, Selys. Your day off starts now! And besides—no, wait. What if we all went to Pallass.”
Lellia looked around. Warsh and Mica’s eyes lit up.
“Why not? Selys’ friend has a door, right? And we’ve never been—I mean, I’ve never been there! I bet there are tons of fancy places to visit!”
“But you need to ask to go.”
“Well, we can all put our names down. No one else is going to Pallass, right? And it’s free.”
Selys’ stomach was twisting over and over again now.
“But Pallass is expensive. I hear its way more expensive, especially for a really high-level establishment. Some don’t even take new customers. You have to know the owner.”
“Yeah, but money’s not a problem, is it? I mean, if it’s to visit Pallass…”
The copper penny dropped. Only, since it was Selys, it was a gold coin and it clunked. All three of her friends were looking at her. At her.
“I have to work. What if all of you went?”
“What would be the point of that? Come on, Selys. You can afford to take time off—or quit your job! You keep talking about how much your grandmother makes you work. Just walk back into her office and tell you quit! Then you can join the rest of us and have some real fun, yes? Besides, you have enough money—”
Warsh had noticed the sudden change in the way Selys’ tail was wagging. Her face remained the same, but her tail had stopped dead in the street. And it was beginning to curl up. But Mica, in her excitement, kept going.
“We can get dresses, go to the Tailless Thief tonight—or visit Pallass! Why not? It will be fun. And you should come. You have to come! We told everyone—”
Lellia had spotted the same thing. She stomped on Mica’s foot. The Gnoll yelped, then she looked down.
The three friends fell silent. They stared at Selys. She was clenching her claws so tightly she could feel her scales grinding together. She spoke levelly as she could.
“I like my job.”
No one said a word. Selys went on, looking from face to face.
“I like working with my grandmother, no matter what I say. And Warsh, you have to go to work later today. So I’m not drinking. I’m not going to a party and I don’t want a dress. I’m not in the mood. Okay?”
She met Warsh’ eyes. He didn’t meet hers. Selys was going to leave it at that. She was going to, but Mica burst out despite Lellia’s silent signals.
“Aw, come on, Selys—”
The Drake whirled and shouted in her friend’s face.
“I’m not spending my money for you, Mica! I’m not buying you a dress and I’m not paying for you and everyone we know to party! I thought we were friends!”
The Gnoll backed up. Selys took a gulp of air and realized people were staring. Lellia looked astounded. Warsh was turning red. Mica looked hurt, guilty, and then angry.
“I thought we were friends too, Selys. What’s wrong with spending some of your money? You told us you inherited it and you have more than enough to spend!”
Lellia was trying to pull the [Clerk] back, but Mica was taller and stronger than her. Selys glared. What had she said at the Tailless Thief?
“It’s mine. I choose how to spend it!”
“Well—fine! Maybe you should just keep it yourself, you hoarder!”
Lellia and Warsh gasped. Selys felt her face turning crimson. She pointed a claw at Mica, who’d realized she might have gone too far. She raised a placating paw, too late.
“Selys, I didn’t meant that. I only meant—Warsh was saying—”
“You and Warsh can go eat your tails. And you, Lellia. If I see you—you know what? No. As far as I’m concerned, all three of you can—”
Selys never got to say the rest of what was boiling away in her stomach. Someone reached out and before she could speak, very quickly, but firmly, grasped her on the shoulder. It was just a touch, but instantly Selys felt a cool, calming feeling run through her. Her words died unbidden and a man, the same Human [Merchant] who’d been sitting against his wagon, stepped forwards.
“Why don’t we leave it at that? Miss Selys, good Drakes, Miss Gnoll, I think this fight won’t do more than create grudges if it goes on. And this is a public street. Let’s say you agree to part ways, for now. I think that’s wise.”
He looked around. Warsh, Mica, and Lellia stared. So did Selys. The [Merchant] was shorter than the first, middle-aged [Cloth Merchant], about Selys’ height. But he had more youth and energy about him, even if he was wearing a traveler’s garb. And his touch was still calming Selys down. He smiled at her friends.
“I think Miss Selys here will benefit from some time alone, don’t you?”
“Uh—right. Yes. come on, Mica.”
Warsh grabbed his friend. Lellia did too. They towed Mica back. Warsh half-turned. He hesitated.
“Sorry, Selys. I didn’t—”
Then he turned and left. Selys looked around and saw at least two dozen Drakes and Gnolls staring at her, along with several [Merchants] and [Guards]. She turned crimson. But the [Merchant] only twisted his head around and whistled.
“Febin, get one of those tables. And a chair. And something to drink. Not wine. A juice. My guest and I will have a talk. In the shade over there.”
He pointed at a tree whose roots were trying to overgrow the little triangle of soil it was planted in. Selys found herself seated, and on a minute, sitting across from the Human. It was only after he’d offered her some refreshing apple juice and she’d taken a cup down that she could speak.
“Thank you. I think.”
“My pleasure, Miss Selys. It is Selys, isn’t it? My name is Farri Sightly. I’m a [Merchant].”
He offered a hand and Selys gingerly shook it. Farri pointed back at where Selys had been shouting.
“I noticed your fight. I stepped in before you could ruin that friendship. I hope you don’t mind.”
Selys slumped in her seat. Farri smiled.
“I think your friends will realize how they acted when they have a chance to think. That young Drake boy already did, I think. Credit to you for realizing what they were after, but don’t hold too much of a grudge. Money tests friendships hard, and I hear it’s worse among Drakes. It’s plenty bad among Humans. Trust me. I speak from experience.”
Selys looked up sharply.
“What did you hear?”
Farri took a drink of juice.
“Nothing specific. But I already knew you were rich before you started shouting. I just had to take one look at you to know that. Fresh wealth? Inheritance or some kind of windfall? You’re no adventurer.”
He tapped underneath one eye. Selys blinked at him.
“You have a Skill?”
“[Evaluation of Wealth]. A handy Skill for any [Merchant]. Or [Thief]. It’s not the most common Skill, but I’d watch your purse, Miss. Or make sure your money’s in a safe place. You have a freshly-come glow about you, and that speaks of new money.”
That was exactly what Selys had been worried about. She stood up.
“Thank you. For stopping me and the drink. But I don’t want—”
Selys hesitated. She wanted to go, but the man’s voice was soothing. And she found herself sitting down. Only when she’d done that did she glare at him.
“That’s a Skill too, isn’t it?”
He coughed, embarrassed.
“Er—[Prolonged Negotiations]. I’m surprised you noticed.”
“I know my way around Skills. And [Merchants]. Fine. I can’t leave. But I’m not a rookie about to be fleeced, you know.”
He looked shocked. And a bit hurt.
“No, no, that’s not me! What kind of low-life do you take me for? I’m purely here as someone hoping to make some lucrative sales. Because something tells me the cost of some juice and a few words will earn me at least a few hundred gold coins. It’s the big sales I’m looking for, Miss. And that means cultivating relationships with potential clients.”
He looked meaningfully at Selys again. She hesitated.
“Well…I did come here to shop. But I don’t have any coin on me.”
“That’s a common occurrence, Miss. Or did you think most of the rich customers walked out with bags of holding stuffed with thousands of gold coins? If they’re stupid, they do, but most learn to deposit their gold at the Merchant’s Guild and arrange payment there. Or, if your money’s elsewhere, the Watch will help you collect it and pay me without asking for more than a small fee. The City Watch in Drake cities, that is.”
“Really? I had no idea they do that.”
Selys blinked. She looked at Farri and hesitated. She knew it was partly because of his Skills, but she was feeling more and more inclined to trust the man with every passing second. So she took a deep breath.
“Okay. I am looking for a bag of holding. But…that was to hold the money I have.”
He smiled, and Selys could have sworn she felt his delight in her trust in him. She told herself it was a Skill. Skill, and charisma, which you needed if you wanted to be a [Merchant].
“Ah. A bag of holding would help with that. But it’s still vulnerable. As I said, it’s safe to place money in the Merchant’s Guild…although there are fees. But if you wanted to protect your gold, could I suggest a box enchanted with the holding spell? I sell magical vaults too.”
“Really? Aren’t they really expensive?”
Selys had heard of magical vaults, but in her mind they were always huge, warded rooms filled with treasure. Farri shook his head.
“There are always degrees of enchantment. Some nobles have huge vaults crammed with so many wards they can’t even fit a compression spell inside—for fear the magical goods will corrupt the compression as well. But if you just deal in gold, I can sell you a very small, very easy-to-conceal vault that looks as plain as anything. Thieves will have trouble finding it, and if they aren’t attuned to the lock spell…I have all kinds of varieties, from lethal to noisy to incapacitating. Would you like me to show you some examples? And while I’m at it, I can sell you some very cheap bags of holding. And anything else you might care to see.”
He gave Selys a very soothing smile that made her want to trust him. And she knew it was a Skill. She knew it, but she still stood up and followed him over to his wagon.
“I guess I could take a look…”
[Kings] have been made into [Beggars] from that line alone. But while Farri might have been a high-level [Merchant], he was true to his word. Better to have a client that might come back again than earn a reputation as a [Swindler]. His prices were fair, and Selys bought too much. A magical vault, a small bag of holding, a quill that could automatically refill itself from the matching inkpot, a talisman that kept away bugs from her house, a little cooling stone, and a very bouncy ball that bounced away from you until you said the retrieval word…
“You’re willing to give me the bag of holding? Just like that?”
Selys blinked down at the bag of holding, a little blue satchel with bright yellow ties. Farri gave her a winning smile as his apprentice [Trader] dutifully packed up the goods she’d bought and set them aside.
“I can pick a client, Miss Selys. Trust goes both ways. If you ran, well, the City Watch in Liscor is good at their jobs and we [Merchants] usually have our own ways of getting even. Besides which, a bag of holding isn’t the worst of risks to take. I’ll be staying at the Firehearth Inn after evening. I’d advise you to request a [Guardsman] accompany you when you transport the coin.”
“I will. And I’ll come to your inn. Um. Thank you.”
“A pleasure. And if you have any other needs, please let me know. You see, I don’t often come by Liscor. But I’m always willing to change my route, and if—”
Farri was trying to lay on the charm, giving Selys a handshake with his other hand clasping hers gently, smile in full bloom. But here at least he failed, because the [Cloth Merchant] from earlier sidled over and with great delicacy and powerful hips, bumped Farri out of the way. Selys blinked as Farri swore and nearly fell over.
“Miss Selys, was it? I do regret not spotting you earlier. Can I tempt you to sit down and peruse some of my fabrics? I’d love to sell you a sample—and for a first-time customer, I’d let you have the first purchase at a say, twenty gold coin reduction? Humric Mames, at your service. [Cloth Merchant]; my wares come from Baleros and Chandrar and String People buy from me as well as the nobility.”
Selys’ jaw dropped. Farri turned, glaring. He strode back over.
“Don’t listen to that fool, Miss Selys.”
He tried to shove the [Cloth Merchant], but Humric was impossible to budge. He crowded Farri out. And he wasn’t the only one.
The [Merchants] visiting Liscor might not have all had Farri’s eye for wealth, but they still had eyes. And the new addition to the list of Liscor’s elite hadn’t escaped their notice. They crowded around, but Humric was like a rock. A rock that moved and could careen into his fellow [Merchants] sending them sprawling while his [Guards] gave him the chance to make his pitch to Selys. Which Humric did, speaking at a very rapid pace as he tried to guide her to his wares on display.
“I’ve been travelling to Liscor quite often. But what with the dungeon and this latest business…still, it’s a profitable run. And if I come back, I’ll be sure to bring back an inventory from Invrisil. I can even procure items from First Landing. Perhaps you’d like to make a request? I’d be delighted to find whatever you need. And there are a number of delectable new items. The latest fashions from Terandria, or perhaps some of Baleros’ latest…?”
Selys knew it was a Skill. She still bought three bolts of cloth, the first blue and red pattern heavily discounted. The second a black-and-gold bolt of silk for her grandmother. And the third some very fine yellow cotton she wanted to make into a dress. And Humlic smiled all the while. In the background Farri fumed and the other [Merchants] tried to get Selys’ attention. It was the quick [Merchant] who got the first sale. But it was the man with the [Hip Bump] technique who closed the second deal.
“Oh Ancestors, what have I done?”
Selys sat in her apartment, head in her hands. She stared down at the pile of gold hidden away in her dresser. And in the back of her wardrobe. And underneath her bed. Gold, not pure gold which was heavy and less shiny, but gold coins winked up at her. Selys stared at them, at the neat rows she’d arranged. She slowly pushed them into the plain, brown bag of holding and stared at it. The blue bag of holding was on her dresser; the brown one had come separately. As had the red one emblazoned with Humric’s initials.
Selys took a great deal of care to keep the brown bag of holding away from the other two. Bags of holding did not play well together, and she’d been warned to keep these three out of proximity and to finish as quickly as possible. Lesser bags of holding could handle being close together for a while, but the stronger the enchantment, the shorter the time span before something…happened. So Selys opened the door and held the first bag of holding out.
“This one’s to Mister Farri. Trader’s End.”
“Got it. Do you have a personal seal, Miss?”
Selys blinked at the Street Runner waiting for the bag. He was a short Drake, quite young, and practically bouncing on his feet. She shook her head.
“I don’t. Er, I could get a standard one—”
“No need. I’ll get Mister Farri’s seal or he can send someone to testify. Thanks!”
The Street Runner took the brown bag of holding and raced down the apartment steps. Selys watched him go, then turned. A Gnoll woman was waiting patiently by her door. She’d stepped aside to let the Street Runner go.
“Sorry. I’ll get the other bag of holding done soon.”
“No need to rush, Miss.”
The Gnoll City Runner gave Selys a lazy smile. The Drake tried to return it; she hurried back in and counted.
“One, two, three, four, five…ten…twenty, thirty, forty…”
It took her a while, but she got the red bag of holding belonging to Humric filled and handed it to the City Runner. The Gnoll didn’t ask for Selys’ seal. She just nodded.
“This will go to Merchant Humric within five minutes, Miss Shivertail. If you have any complaints, you may testify at the local Runner’s Guild. You may also confirm the delivery by asking for me or my fellow Runner, and we will provide a full summary of our delivery on request.”
“Oh. Thank you! I uh, that’s fine. Thank you. Really.”
“It’s an easy service.”
The Gnoll grinned at Selys. She touched a paw to her brow and took off. She didn’t bother with stairs; she just vaulted from the second story and landed on the street before taking off with a long, loping stride. Selys watched her go.
City Runner and Street Runner. That was the difference. Humric hadn’t bothered to make Selys do the footwork, and Farri had copied his example. But it was a mark of the difference between the two; Farri had sent a Street Runner with a plain bag of holding, while Humric had paid for a City Runner to deliver Selys’ gold and sent one of his personal bags of holding. And it made a difference; somehow, Selys found herself liking Humric’s expansive, aggressive style more.
He’d gently bullied her into buying some cloth, all while plying her with wine, grapes from Chandrar, and insulting Farri and the other [Merchants] to their faces while they looked on. And to top matters off, he’d given her this easy way of paying and receiving her goods, and had his [Guards] escort Selys away from Trader’s end before she could spend any more money.
“A [Merchant] doesn’t just treat his clients like a friend, Miss Selys. Oh no, he treats them far better!”
Selys laughed to herself as she remembered that. She walked back into her apartment. Then she panicked again.
“Oh no. What have I done?”
She’d spent so much. More money then she’d spent in…all of her life? Yes! Definitely! But then Selys stared down at the pile of gold. She peered under her bed. She checked the wardrobe. She sat down.
“One, two…three hundred. A thousand over there…”
Her money pile hadn’t…decreased that much. Selys had spent a lot. But she hadn’t spent that much. The most expensive item she’d bought had only been, what? An eight hundred gold piece vault? Yes, and the bag of holding was only six hundred and sixty gold pieces. The cloth had been cheap. Selys stared at her gold piled up on the floor. It shone at her.
“I could go back there and buy more cloth from Humric. I could buy those ten bolts he picked out for me. And it wouldn’t even…”
The Drake stared at her bag of holding. She stared at the gold. She grabbed the bag of holding, shoveled some gold into it, walked out of her apartment, looked at the little key in the lock, then ran back in the apartment, grabbed her dagger, and locked the door. Then she hovered at her window, staring out it anxiously until a Street Runner passed by.
“Hey! Hey you!”
The Gnoll girl did a double-take. She looked up and Selys waved at her frantically.
“I’m on delivery, Miss! Urgent! It’s fresh fish!”
The Gnoll girl complained. Selys threw a gold coin at her. The Gnoll immediately raced up the stairs.
“How can I help you, Miss?”
“Another gold coin if you get my grandmother. Tekshia Shivertail. Tell her I want her to come over now. It’s an emergency!”
“Do you have a s—”
“No, I do not! But it’s two gold pieces. Oh, you also have to tell Mister Farri in Trader’s End I want my magical vault now. If you do the delivery it’s a third gold piece.”
The Gnoll’s eyes lit up. She didn’t ask for a seal again; after all, you only needed them as proof of deliveries completed. If the customer was fine with handing money out in advance or on completion, Runners could skip that step. They only registered with the guild so packages could be delivered and handled by the people there. The Street Runner took off like lightning, abandoning her delivery of fish. Selys waited by her window, watching her stairs like a hawk. Then she realized a [Thief] could come in through her windows and was trying to block all of them when someone rapped on her door.
“Who is it?”
Selys hurried over to the door. She knew the voice, but she was in full paranoia mode by now.
“Me, you idiot. Let me in.”
The Drake waiting outside impatiently pointed at the City Runner, the same Gnoll woman who’d taken Humric’s delivery, and the Gnoll stepped back. Tekshia Shivertail waited as the lock slowly turned in the door.
“Grandma? Are you—”
Tekshia kicked the door. Selys, who’d been leaning against it, went flying. She screamed as she hit the ground, rolling like Tekshia had taught her as a hatchling. Tekshia Shivertail, retired Gold-rank adventurer and Guildmistress of Liscor’s Adventuring Guild walked into Selys’ apartment. She stared at the gold on the ground, sighed, and raised her voice.
“City Runner, bring in that vault. Selys, stop sniveling.”
She waved in the Gnoll, whose jaw dropped as she saw the gold piled up on the floor. Selys yelped.
“Stop whining. You’re going to move apartments anyways. You’ve complained about how small this one is for years in my earhole. Give the City Runner a tip; don’t offer her gold, what are you, flea-brained? You’ll have Street Runners expecting a handful of silver just for delivering a letter five feet! Now, attune yourself to this damn vault and start putting the gold inside. Why you haven’t done this already I have no idea. You have as much sense as your mother. More than your father, I suppose. Get moving!”
Tekshia Shivertail did not wait to see Selys move. She went into Selys’ kitchen and brewed some tea, and came out to find Selys doing what she’d told her to. The City Runner was gone, only slightly disappointed by a six silver tip for running for five minutes. Selys was shoveling gold into the magic vault.
Tekshia, an old Drake with faded green and grey scales, watched her granddaughter working as she took a seat on Selys’ bed. Selys paused to rub at her back; gold coins, even if they were alloyed, were heavy in bulk. Only then did Tekshia speak.
“You’ve finally gotten the bug, don’t you, my dear?”
Selys glanced up. Tekshia clarified.
The [Receptionist] turned red.
“Grandma! I spend money! And I’m not hoarding, I’m just—”
She paused, realizing that denying she was a hoarder while she had gold in each claw wasn’t the most compelling of arguments. Tekshia smiled, and her stern face relaxed a bit. Normally she had a glare that could cut through wood. But she did smile. Then it snapped back into a look that was frightening to rookies working at the Adventurer’s Guild, both [Receptionist] and adventurer alike. To Selys, it was just how her grandmother’s face was normally.
“Hoarding isn’t just about gold, girl. It’s about owning things. Or did you think Dragons just sat on gold? No. They covet treasures. We do the same things. We fill our homes with everything we want. You’re starting it; I do it now and then. But I’m not rich any longer. And you just came into your wealth. But you’re caught between wanting to keep your gold and spend it, aren’t you?”
“I spent some of it.”
Selys sulkily pushed more gold into her vault. It was rearranging itself, piling up in miniature as Selys watched. She could easily pull it out and it would organize the coins by denomination as well as categorize jewelry and other valuables. Tekshia snorted and kicked the vault, which was metal but carefully painted to look like plain wood, with one foot.
“This? This is cheap, girl. You should have paid for one worth at least two thousand gold pieces. Probably four just to be safe. The next time you meet the [Merchant] that sold you this, make him trade it in.”
“Four thousand? Grandmother, that’s more than half of what I have! I think!”
“You’ll get more. Don’t be stingy when it comes to protecting your treasure. And you’ll need it to store everything you buy. Or did you think [Thieves] only went for vaults? Smart ones will rob everything but the vault, even if they’re barely Level 10. And thanks to your idiocy—and your stupid, gossipy friends, the city knows you’re rich.”
“Grandma, I only—”
“You didn’t think. And I suppose it’s a credit that you didn’t realize how much you had until now. Actually, I take it back. That’s not wisdom, that’s just stupidity.”
Tekshia reached out and flicked at Selys. The Drake recoiled.
“I…I just got it a week ago. I had no idea what to do with it. I went to work! You saw me! And I didn’t steal any of this—”
“Of course you didn’t. Do I look like an idiot? You got it from renting out the Heartflame Breastplate, the treasure of our people like a cheap toy!”
The old Drake glared at Selys. The [Receptionist] winced. Tekshia sipped from her cup. Loudly.
“Well done. I would have never thought of that. Are you a [Heiress], by any chance? That’s the only class I can think of that fits. If you are, level up as much as you can. I’d like to live in a mansion when I finally retire.”
Selys’ jaw dropped. Then she realized what Tekshia was saying. Selys sat back on her tail.
“You’re proud of me?”
The old Drake shot her a stern glance.
“You’re more addled than I thought. Drink some tea! And why wouldn’t I be proud? You made money. True, you had to use a legendary artifact to do it, but you didn’t sell it. You own the Heartflame Breastplate and somehow you turned that fact into thousands of gold pieces. Even if you nearly got all of it stolen. Still, you’ve got more money than I ever dreamed you’d have. I always thought I’d be richer than you even with what remains of my savings. Huh. I guess I got that wrong.”
Selys blinked at her grandmother. Somehow she found herself sitting among the scattered gold pieces, sipping from one of her cups. Her grandmother still had a lecturing tone, but the words were…positive. That was rare. Selys felt a kick in her stomach, a good one. She took a breath.
“I guess I need to let you know I’m quitting, then.”
It was hard to imagine. But on the other hand…Selys would like sleeping in. And she’d have more time to visit Mrsha and talk with Erin. She almost smiled at the thought. Tekshia did not. She scowled at Selys.
“Quit? What gave you that idea? And refill my cup, would you?”
She thrust out her tea cup. Selys blinked at her.
“Grandma, you said yourself! I’m rich! Why would I work a job?”
“Because I said so. You’re not quitting until I get a better replacement.”
The old Drake sighed. She sprang up from her bed with more agility than she had any right to. Selys shot her a look as Tekshia refilled her cup herself, grumbling about unfilial granddaughters.
But not every granddaughter had a grandmother who could still do backflips and outrun Street Runners. Even if Tekshia complained of aching bones and body. She looked back at Selys, her tail very calmly lying on the bed. That was another feature about Tekshia; when she didn’t want you to, you couldn’t read a thing about her from her tail.
“I still need a [Receptionist]. And you’re my best one. Maybe you can consolidate the classes. Either way, you’re not allowed to quit. But I will let you work the day shifts. Six hours instead of nine. If I can hire some replacements, you can work the odd day. Actually, if you’ll pay their yearly wages, I’ll give you as much time off as you want.”
“But that’s not fair! I’m rich!”
“And I’m your grandmother. You can’t quit now, when all these adventurers are traipsing about my Guild and you’re one of the few people who know how things work. Besides, once you run off to spend your fortune, I won’t see you anymore.”
Selys was about to protest, but then she saw Tekshia’s face. Her tail never moved, but the old Drake’s face was less guarded. It was a sad look. Tekshia looked around the room. Her eyes found something on the walls. A little portrait, framed and covered with glass. Expensive; but Selys had bought it the first year Tekshia had begun employing her.
The illustration was a sketch; the kind of thing that was a prelude to a proper portrait. It showed two Drakes. It wasn’t a scene from any scene out of life, although the details were accurate, as far as Tekshia had always said. The [Artist] had drawn it from a memory. Tekshia’s. The Drake looked at it. So did Selys, but whatever emotions she felt were old. Incomplete.
She envied the look in Tekshia’s eyes and all the gold lying on the floor would have been a small price to pay to make that picture complete. To hear a voice. Wait—
Tekshia stood up and walked over to the portrait. She glanced back at Selys, looking sadder and older than Selys ever wanted to see her. Tekshia reached up and half-touched the portrait, claws gently skating over class.
“If your uncle could see what you did with the armor, he’d be proud, I think. So would your parents. At last, someone in the family who figured out how to get rich by being smart, not being a warrior and risking their tails or sponging off of Zel’s fame. I suppose this counts in a way, but he gave this to you. Don’t let anyone steal it.”
Selys looked up at her parents. Her voice was smaller as she stared at the gold on her floor. And now it looked more like metal. Like trash, covering the plain, worn wooden apartment she hated, but which felt like a home.
“Grandma, what should I do? Really? I didn’t sell the armor because Uncle Zel gave it to me. But what should I do with…?”
She waved a claw. Tekshia took a seat at Selys’ little table and sipped from her cup. She glanced at Selys.
“Learn to be rich. Don’t run from it. And don’t pretend you’re not. What’s the point of doing that? Don’t be guilty either. Don’t think you have to give it away, or do your friends favors. It’s yours. You earned it, by luck, by chance, but it’s yours. Keep doing that. Don’t squander your fortunes. I did, when I was your age.”
Selys scooted forwards on her bottom. She frowned at her grandmother.
“What, you did? You told me you weren’t rich.”
“I did? I must have lied.”
The old Drake hunched her shoulders and her tail wrapped around her chair’s leg.
“You were probably too young. And it’s an embarrassing story. What did I say, that I quit and just had enough to live in my means? That was a lie.”
Selys shook her head. And for a moment she forgot the gold around her. As she absently flicked a gold coin from underneath her bottom she looked up at her grandmother. And she could have been a little hatchling looking up at her grandmother in Tekshia’s apartment, a decade ago.
“You told me you lost it all when the Necromancer attacked the city.”
“Ah. That’s a good lie.”
“But it is a lie?”
“Yes. It is. I suppose you’re old enough now. I might as well tell you since it’s a mistake you shouldn’t make. Sit up. Don’t slouch. Let’s see. There’s enough tea. Do you have anything to eat?”
“Um. I have crackers with a fishy paste. It might have gone bad. Or—oh! Erin gave me some cookies the other week. They’re a bit stale—”
Selys obediently got her grandmother the stale cookies. Tekshia shot her a look.
“You have enough cookies to eat that you leave some to get stale?”
“I’m too tired from work to think about eating most of the time, Grandma. And I’ve been going out recently. Well, I was, with Warsh, Lellia, and…”
“I see. I see. Well, give them here. You may have one too, I suppose. Not that one! Mm. These are good.”
“They go well with milk, apparently.”
“Do they? I don’t like milk much. Milk tea isn’t for me. And I don’t trust it. It comes from cows. And those great, stinking things are disgusting. They have parasites, you know. Ever see a Creler burst out of a cow? You’ll never forget it.”
“Grandma, please. Your story about how you were wealthy?”
“Yes, yes. I was getting to that. Now, where should I begin?”
Tekshia chewed on the cookie, thinking. At last, she began, and Selys leaned forwards at the little table, wondering when she’d grown taller than her grandmother. But the crackling voice was just like she remembered.
“You know my career. I wasn’t the best Gold-rank, hah, I could never get close to Named Adventurer status no matter how hard I tried. My teams came and went; I wasn’t the best adventurer, but I wasn’t the worst. I made a name for myself.”
“Tekshia the Spearmaster. Yes, grandma.”
“Don’t interrupt! Yes. Tekshia the Spearmaster. It should have been Spearmistress, but I heard too many jokes about that. I earned that class. Not like that Relc, who got it from killing a [Spearmaster] in battle. So I was good. But I knew I was getting older and frankly, I got tired of the adventuring life. Too many days hunting Trolls in bogs. So I quit.”
“Just like that?”
The old Drake looked annoyed. She chewed her cookie furiously and sipped more tea.
“No, not ‘just like that’. It took a long time to make my decision. Years. But I did it in the end. I retired from Gold-rank adventuring. And I was rich. I didn’t feel like it at the time. Adventuring is like a tunnel. No, wait, a staircase. Tunnels are idiotic. You keep chasing higher and higher, saving up for the next artifact, saying ‘if only I had real armor, not this steel crap’, or, ‘if only my spear were tipped with adamantine, not just enchanted’. And then when you quit, you realize how much gold you spent on just a potion.”
“How rich were you?”
“Richer than you are right now. By quite a lot, young lady. And I spent the money I had, too. I spent a lot of it on parties. Drinks, food, a fancy house, travelling…what adventurers normally do. Some of my old friends got into trouble. I helped them out. Some of the less-successful adventurers could use some gold. I had gold for years, even when I was pregnant. Even when your father was growing up and married your mother. Even when you were born. I wasn’t as rich, then, but I had investments. I was still one of Liscor’s wealthier citizens come the Second Antinium War. And then I…er…donated the rest to Liscor’s army.”
“You did what?”
Tekshia looked defensive. And uncomfortable.
“It was a different time! After the First Antinium War, when we held the walls and we could count the number of officers that survived? I had [Majors] and [Colonels] knocking on my door, very nice young Drakes and Gnolls. Always in need of gold. Always so thankful, as were the high command. And between all of it, the donations to the city, the rest, I suppose it ran out. That was an unpleasant day. I had to sell a lot of my gear to pay off the debts by the time I broke even.”
She watched as Selys put her face on the table. Tekshia was blushing, but she cleared her throat and Selys looked up.
“Don’t misunderstand me, Selys. I’m not poor. I had my job as Guildmistress and that earned me money. I could live and I still live quite comfortably off that. But I used to have money. And take it from me, adventurers spend money like a…Eater Goat shits.”
“Grandma! Wait, how often is that?”
“Often. And the wealthier they are, the more money they spend. That goes for most rich people. It’s rare to meet someone who can make more money come in than go out who’s new to the game. So don’t spend everything at once. Or if you do, hold onto that armor. Never let it slip away. You made your choice to keep it; never offer even a part of it, no matter what they offer you.”
After that, Tekshia finished her third cookie. Selys sat at the table, tail moving back and forth restlessly.
“So you think I should keep making money off the armor?”
“That would be wise. And I would tell you to spend a lot of it on artifacts. A better vault, somewhere with wards, perhaps on security—at least on some protective charms! You know what most adventurers wear. Get that. After that? You should leave Liscor.”
“But it’s my home.”
The Drake snorted.
“So what? It’s one city. Do you know how big Izril is? You’ve never been to another city in your life, girl. When I was your age, I’d visited three Walled Cities and at least two dozen cities!”
“And broken fifteen hearts and gotten married twice.”
Selys rolled her eyes. Tekshia raised a fist. Selys edged her chair back.
“I may exaggerate. But there’s a reason those arrogant idiots in Pallass look down on Liscor. If they ever come to Liscor, we’ll kick the scales off them in a back alley, but they are right.”
She pointed at Selys with a yellowed claw.
“You’re rich, Selys. You should go to Pallass. You should accompany that deranged girl, Erin Solstice. She’s more of a child than you are. She might need a rich friend, and you need to find out how to make that armor earn you money. Rent it to the Flamewardens for now; their leader will pay well to wear it. Most Drakes will, if only for a few days.”
“And will this be my life?”
“Only if you want it to be. You don’t have to keep the armor. You don’t have to be rich, girl. But shouldn’t you find out what that means before you give it away?”
She was right. She usually was. Selys looked up at her grandmother. She was a bit teary, but she didn’t know why. She nodded.
“Okay. I’ll do that. Erin wants me to come with her anyways. I’ll spend money and…make connections. Wall Lord Ilvriss was talking about it. I’ll visit the Flamewardens. But you have to do one thing for me, Grandma.”
Tekshia eyed her suspiciously.
“…Give you more days off?”
Selys laughed. She stood up and went over to the portrait. She unhooked it from the wall and showed Tekshia it. The Drake stared down at the sketch.
“Grandma, you have to find a [Mage Artist]. Or whoever drew this.”
“[Sketch Wizard]. I think that’s what he called himself. Why?”
“So you can get another [Mage] to do this. But do it in color. Or do a memory. They can do that, can’t they?”
Tekshia’s eyes widened. She took the portrait, inspected it.
“They can. It’s very expensive, but Wistram [Mages] can do it. Some of them. I think some of Fissival’s [Mages] know the spell. Idiots becoming [Battlemages], [Summoners], [Necromancers] and [Illusionists]. If they really wanted to earn money, they just need to learn that spell and make it cheap enough for old folk. But it’s possible if you have enough gold.”
“Then do it. I want to know what my parents said. What they were like. I’ll pay for that. And I’ll earn whatever it takes…”
She felt a lump in her throat. Selys looked down and saw Tekshia’s eyes were moist. The Drake blinked rapidly. She glanced up at Selys and then down at the portrait.
“You want to know what they were like having sex? Because I walked in on them twice when I was—”
Selys laughed and cried. Tekshia smiled and stood up. She hugged her granddaughter once. Briefly. For such a tough Drake, Tekshia was surprisingly reticent about physical contact. Then she nodded.
“Make at least twenty thousand gold pieces first, you precocious granddaughter. That’s probably what it would take to lure a [Mage] all the way here and get what you want. For now…”
She walked over to the pile of gold on the floor next to the magical vault. Selys expected Tekshia to give her another pearl of wisdom, but the Drake just bent. She had a bag of holding at her side too, a good one from her adventuring days. She casually shoveled some of the gold into it.
“I’ll take this. And this. And some of this. The old folk and I could use a night at Wishdrink. Don’t bother coming to work tomorrow; I’ll make Warsh cover your shift.”
Selys blinked as Tekshia nimbly hopped up and headed for the door. Selys blinked at the bare patch of her floor.
The old Drake was already out the door as her furious granddaughter appeared in it. She laughed up at Selys, more like a [Witch]’s cackle.
“That’s Grandmother to you, Selys! And give me some of that cloth you bought! And if you didn’t buy anything nice, buy more!”
She speed-walked away as Selys shouted insults. The Drake [Receptionist] caught her breath, and then smiled as she closed her door. Her neighbor stomped on the floor to let Selys know to keep it down. Selys ignored it. She looked around and saw a Tekshia-sized gap in her apartment.
The old Drake had been bossy, mildly condescending, rude, and she’d stolen at least a hundred gold coins. And somehow, after her visit Selys felt a lot better. She looked at her vault, slapped the lid shut, lifted it, and ran out the door to find a new apartment.
Selys was learning a lot of things today. She knew about speed, but now she was learning a new equation. Money = speed. It was a simple formula, but the more money you offered people, the faster you got places. New apartment? Money up front worked wonders. [Merchants] having lunch? Farri and Humric were at her service!
Something else Selys was learning was the effect gold had on friends. Or maybe silver was a better analogy. Because on some money cut and divided, but the silver shone through. Whereas other relationships tarnished. Or turned black.
It was another easy thing to spot. Some friends were poor friends. They came up to Selys and said things like—‘hey, I know Mica, Warsh, and Lellia said those things. But I want you to know that I would never’—and so on and so forth.
The true friends just apologized. Best friends, or oblivious ones like Erin never brought it up to begin with. Or in Drassi’s case, had brought it up all along and never lied about her intentions.
The final thing Selys learned was that she was mildly out of shape. She was so tired from running around the city and lugging the twenty-pound safe about that by the time she threw her safe in her new apartment and turned the spelled key in the lock, she had to go lie down. Or buy a stamina potion. She didn’t own any, but her new home was conveniently located near the eastern gates. Near to The Wandering Inn and a certain Market Street.
Selys dragged herself over there and saw the street was bustling. [Stall Keepers] and the lower-level [Shopkeepers] might not have permanent dwellings or fancy mobile caravans like the [Merchants] on Trader’s End did, but a lot of money still went through this street, albeit in smaller denominations.
Selys spotted the familiar stall and Gnoll at once. Krshia was a face to remember in Market Street—she might not be the Gnoll rubbing shoulders with Farri and Humric, but she was a [Queen] of the low-level earners. Which would make Lism the [King]. It was a loveless marriage.
Someone else had gotten to Krshia before Selys. Or rather, someone else was hovering around Krshia, talking fast as the Gnoll tried to conduct business with her clients. Octavia ducked as Krshia irritably swatted at her. Selys slowed down to listen.
“Krshia, friend! You know we’ve had a long and profitable business relationship, right? Well, I have an opportunity for you! I hear you know Gnolls. Well, I could use a few er, bulky lads to help me out! Just for a day or two! It’s nothing underhanded, probably, but for the sake of our relationship—”
She stopped as Krshia turned to stare at her.
“We have been working together for little more than a month, Octavia Cotton. Little time to call each other business partners, yes? Not enough time for favors.”
“Yeah, but—come on, Krshia. Think of our business! You can earn a lot of money! If my potions were to er, vanish suddenly, that’s coin down the drain! Think of it as an investment.”
Krshia shook her head as she handed another Gnoll some change.
“One of your potions was defective. You need to quality-check your batches, yes?”
“True, yes! But—”
“You stink of desperation. I will not risk my fellow Gnolls on something that smells and sounds illegal. Go ask an adventurer. Or hope Erin Solstice is inclined to help you. But that might be a mistake.”
Krshia shook her head. She turned her back on Octavia and no matter how much the [Alchemist] pleaded, Krshia ignored her. Octavia gave up and passed by Selys, muttering to herself.
“Lousy Gnolls who think they’re above underhanded…no, no, positive, Octavia. Erin will help out. She loves helping out! I just need to phrase it like…hey, watch it! Busy people are coming through!”
She walked around Selys, looking irritated. The Drake ignored her. Although it was the [Alchemist]’s creations she had come here for. Krshia smiled as Selys approached her counter.
“Ah, Selys. Good morning to you.”
“Hey Krshia. Can I get a stamina potion please? Uh, not a defective one.”
The Gnoll grinned at Selys.
“I tested these myself after the defective one was discovered. They are fine. That is twelve silver coins.”
“Twelve? That’s cheap…can you make change for a gold coin?”
“Hrr. Of course. But a cheap potion is cheaply sold. Miss Octavia makes them in bulk and I will admit, they are effective. If crude. You only need drink half for a good effect.”
Selys popped the vial Krshia gave her. It was indeed a small amount of liquid compared to a full-sized bottle, and true to the Gnoll’s word, the stuff was vile. Selys had tasted bad potions, but this was on another level. She gagged, but got it down. And when she did—
“Gah! That’s strong!”
It was like being smacked around by a pot’s worth of caffeine. And about as pleasant. Still, Selys felt her tired body perk up instantly. The taste probably had to do with that as well. She corked the vial and fake-retched a few times deep in her throat to try to get the taste out. Krshia offered her some water from a flask.
“Thanks. Ancestors, but that’s foul. Good price, though.”
The Gnoll smiled as Selys tilted the flask down, letting water splash into her mouth.
“Mm. True. But I hear that is the least of your concern today. Someone has been spending coin. Quite a lot of it, yes?”
“You heard that already?”
Krshia smiled at Selys’ dismayed expression. She tapped one ear.
“One simply has to listen. And it is a topic of much gossip, yes? And important for any [Shopkeeper] to know. But I wished to bring it up out of more than just idle chatter. Will you speak with me for a second?”
Selys lowered the water flask, perplexed. Then she had a surge of apprehension. But Krshia was older. She wouldn’t try and take advantage of Selys. Right?
She stepped to one side as Krshia abandoned her stall. A customer heading towards her growled in disappointment. Krshia waved in apology, but apparently this was more important than business. Which only made Selys more wary. The Gnoll took the water flask back and drank.
“Mm. Thank you. So how shall I say this most simply? You know that I am of the Silverfang Tribe, yes, Selys?”
It was in Krshia’s name. Or rather, she used her tribe’s name rather than having a formal last name like Drakes and Humans. Krshia nodded.
“Well, I am a…highly placed member in my tribe, for all I live in Liscor. You see, I am still a Plains Gnoll at heart, for all that I live in the city.”
That was an important distinction. And Selys wasn’t surprised by Krshia’s admission; she’d seen and heard from Erin how much sway Krshia had. She looked at Krshia, trying to get anything from her brown eyes, or her tail. Krshia grinned and Selys turned red as she saw the Gnoll could tell what she was doing; the trouble with Gnoll tails was that they were so short!
“I apologize. I do not mean to alarm you, yes? No doubt many people have been badgering you. Let me be more plain: I came to Liscor with some of my tribe to build ties. But also to prepare a gift for the Meeting of Tribes. You know what this is?”
“It’s…the biggest event among Gnolls, right? Some annual gathering?”
“Yes. But not annual. It happens every ten years. Sometimes it is even missed. But it is an important time. The fortunes of a tribe may change, or great worth may be acquired at the Meeting of Tribes. Which is why all seek to present a gift better than any other.”
Selys nodded. She was trying to think ahead of the conversation. Why did Krshia want her help? Selys drew a blank so she just waited for Krshia to explain.
“The Meeting of the Tribes is still a ways away. But I think the Silverfang tribe will have much to speak of. And a worthy present to give.”
“Oh. Good. I guess that’s a feather in your cap.”
This time Krshia blinked. She frowned, looking perplexed.
“A feather…in the cap?”
“That’s right. It’s a Human expression. I heard Halrac using it. Apparently [Hunters] put feathers in their hats to show what the biggest animal they killed was. Posturing, you know?”
“Ah. I see. Gnolls do not wear hats, mostly. But I know [Hunters] who made headbands or other apparel out of feathers. It is a good expression. There is another feather I would add if I could, Selys. But it is not an easy feather. And yet it would be quite a big one, and good for the city. Will you hear me out?”
Selys wanted to say ‘I’m doing just that, aren’t I?’ But she knew that was rude and she wasn’t her grandmother so she couldn’t get away with it. So she nodded politely. Krshia took a moment. Then she spoke softly, glancing towards the roof of the City Hall, one of the taller buildings in the distance.
“I have a proposal which no one in the Council has seen fit to acknowledge. I cannot even speak to a Council member formally to suggest it. You see, many issues plague Liscor. Fewer now than there were a few weeks ago. And in fact, these are smaller problems. Solvable problems, unlike siege or war. One you are familiar with. There is a housing crisis in the city and the dungeon has yet been mostly a drain on the city’s profits.”
“Oh, I know about that.”
Selys made a face. She’d paid far more than she’d expected for her apartment, and it had only been achieved by negotiating for a room at the previous owner’s expense. She felt a bit bad about that, but her apartment was open and she hated her upstairs neighbor. She was a Gnoll with acute hearing and she and Selys had been the bane of each other’s lives. As for the dungeon—Selys knew about that indeed.
“I would solve both by expanding Liscor and placing a small fee on the dungeon for adventurers.”
Selys blinked at the idea. But Liscor’s walls were enchanted! And they were tall, and sturdy! You couldn’t just add onto the city, could you? But Krshia seemed to think so. The Gnoll was nodding.
“It is a foreign concept to Drakes. They think of their cities as permanent. But someone built the cities. They can be expanded. Humans do it all the time. And yes, it is sometimes careless, and they often lacks walls. But a wall can be built, yes? And the coin for that could come from the dungeon.”
“How? It’s hardly raking in the profits, aside from the Raskghar haul. And adventurers do not take kindly to upping the fee they pay on huge treasure hauls. We can’t change those even if we wanted to; the Adventurer’s Guild has a code.”
Krshia nodded amiably.
“Very true. But a city can regulate the dungeon’s access, yes? What if Liscor charged a few copper coins for each entrance into the dungeon? That is very nominal even for a Silver-rank team. And this dungeon is so far filled with monsters. Who uses the parts? The adventurers bring some things back, but they leave much. Insect organs, moth wings, spider shells, all of it is useful, isn’t it? And once we know what can be obtained, we might find more uses. I propose to create a list of monsters in the dungeon. An organized inventory of the monsters in the dungeons and the harvestable parts and a system to request materials.”
Selys blinked. That was a great idea! Why hadn’t she or Tekshia thought of it? She nodded.
“We could…do that. Other cities have a system like that in place. Pallass probably does it. But…”
She grimaced, realizing why she hadn’t thought of it and Tekshia hadn’t brought it up if she had.
“…That’s a lot of work. Too much for us right now. We’d have to create a list, interview adventurers, check out bestiaries, consult [Alchemists] and so on…it’s fine if we had more staff, but we don’t. And Krshia, I hate to say it, but even with this amount of coin, it wouldn’t be enough to fully hire enough [Builders], let alone [Enchanters] and so forth to fully construct a new part of the city or even smaller villages on the nearby hills.”
Selys hated to rain on the [Shopkeepers]’s parade, but Krshia was nodding even before she finished.
“It would not. But Liscor is not entirely poor, is it? And what makes a city thrive is an industry. So far, as I understand it, much of Liscor’s wealth comes from its army. It has no…specialty. But a city that thrives off of a dungeon can be richer. Moreover, more space and more need for adventurers besides treasure will drive growth. More merchants will visit the city, more people who cater towards adventurers. It is already happening, but Liscor is not adapting to the problem.”
The [Receptionist] knew Krshia was right. She rubbed at her neck spines.
“I agree. But what’s the problem? You can’t bring this up with a Council member? I don’t know if I can help. I barely remember who…oh. You want Grandmother to help? I’m sure she can get you a meeting…no?”
The Gnoll was shaking her head.
“A proposal is only so much, Selys Shivertail. What if the Council disagrees? What if they do not see my vision? And are they the best fit for the job? I hear that during Liscor’s siege, they did very little. They left it to Watch Captain Zevara, to Wall Lord Ilvriss.”
“That’s true. I heard the same rumor. So what?”
Krshia Silverfang grinned. She spread her paws wide.
“Well, do you not see it? I am saying that if the current Council is inept, why not allow me to join it? The Council selects its own members every few years. By my reckoning, this is the year for it. So let me be the first Gnoll to be part of Liscor’s Council. And let me not be alone.”
Selys blinked. A Gnoll? Gnolls had never been on Liscor’s Council. They hadn’t even been that common in the city until…recently. Until after the Second Antinium War they’d begun appearing. Krshia and her clan. She looked at Krshia.
“No Gnoll’s ever been on the Council, Krshia. The Council is all Drakes. And they pick their replacements. Or the Guilds do, or something.”
“That is true. Liscor has no election. Which is why I would like to change that. With your help and others. I have thought long about this and it is my decision: Liscor must have a vote. Give the city a chance to choose its leaders. And if that happens, I will ask to be elected part of the Council.”
She said it so plainly, as if she were stating facts, rather than trying to overturn Liscor’s governing system. Selys looked up at her. Krshia spoke plainly, gesturing at Selys and the City Hall in the distance.
“If I can find a way onto the Council, I would try to implement these proposals. A new dungeon tax and expanded powers for the Adventurer’s Guild and a formal request system for raw materials that might attract artisans into the city. Expanding parts of Liscor or even creating new villages to lower the rent issue—as well as establishing a maximum fee that a tenant may be charged.”
Krshia forestalled her, raising a furry finger.
“As for how, aside from the dungeon, I would request Antinium aid for building at low rates. They already make building cheap, yes? I do not expect the Hive to help for free—perhaps for concessions regarding the size of their Hive or allowing more Antinium aboveground? And—ending the bounty on certain monsters, such as Goblins. Would that not save the city money?”
That last part made Selys draw breath in sharply. She looked at Krshia and narrowed her eyes.
“You want Erin’s help, don’t you? You’re serious about this.”
“Have I given a sign that I was joking?”
Krshia returned Selys’ glance full of serious confidence. Selys crossed her arms warily.
“Did she talk with you about this?”
The Gnoll [Shopkeeper] grinned toothily at Selys.
“Believe it or not, some ideas can be my own, yes? This is a small…campaign. But I have the support of many of the Gnolls in Liscor and I believe that if the Council were pressed to hold elections, I and perhaps other Gnolls might win the seats.”
They could do it. If they made it an election, they might do it! Selys knew Krshia was well-liked and the Gnoll population in Liscor was at an all-time high. And Krshia’s ideas were good! Despite inner cynicism at the idea, Selys began to grow excited. Liscor’s Council would never allow it. Much less the army. But if they could do it…!
Then Selys had a thought. She looked at Krshia, confused.
“What do you need me for, Krshia?”
The Gnoll shook her head.
“Not much. Money is useful, but I and some of my friends are willing to put money behind our mouths. If you could donate a bit of gold, we could fund more gatherings with free food, perhaps rent a few taverns.”
Ah, so that was it. She’d gone about it in a roundabout way, but it came down to the same thing. For a second Selys got mad. Then she calmed down. It was a reasonable request. And this was coming from Krshia, for a cause Selys liked, rather than to buy a friend a dress or go partying. She was about to say yes. Then she hesitated. Her grandmother’s words echoed in her mind.
She didn’t have to give money for free, did she? Selys looked up at Krshia. The Gnoll was watching her. Carefully.
“I like your idea, Krshia. But I can’t just give money away for free. Say I do help you. I have some conditions.”
The Gnoll nodded slowly. She seemed ready, wary, but ready.
“Speak. What would you have, Selys?”
Selys didn’t know. And then she did. Of course, hadn’t she been moaning just this morning about it? She took a deep breath.
“If you win, I want a bigger Adventurer’s Guild. Twice as big, with more staff, more money for us as well. We can take on those roles you want if we have more money to buy updated bestiaries, hire trainers…”
Krshia’s brows crossed.
“That is an expensive proposition. I already have more things I wish to give Liscor, and I do not know Liscor’s budget, Selys. I would not wish to go back on my word.”
“I get that. But we need this for the dungeon tax and that monster parts request system, Krshia. And look at it this way. Grandma might back you if you agree. She’s been complaining to the Council for decades about the problem.”
Krshia thought about it. She muttered to herself, too quietly for Selys to hear. Then she looked up.
Selys smiled in relief. Krshia held out a paw.
“I suppose this makes us allies. Working together towards a goal. Although you may simply give me money and I will do what I can.”
The Drake grasped Krshia’s paw firmly and received a crushing grip in return.
“Agh! Too strong, Krshia! No way. I’m in this. I like your idea. And I think I can help you out even more. You need to force the Council to make this an election, don’t you?”
Krshia nodded heavily.
“This is the most complicated issue. I have discussed it with some others, but it is hard to convince the Council to do something they do not have to do. We were thinking of gathering support. Unless you have an idea in mind?”
Selys grinned. Now this was a job she could handle. Not as an [Heiress]—okay, partly as an [Heiress], but also as her main class. A [Receptionist].
“I can do you one better. Come with me. Uh, that is, if you can let your shop…?”
Krshia waved at the stall.
“No one will steal from it. Unless we’ll be gone for hours, it is fine, yes? Very well. I may need to hire someone to help me run my stall soon, however.”
She followed Selys down the street, calling at a Gnoll to tell her she was leaving. Selys saw the Gnoll wave back and wondered how many Gnolls would vote for Krshia if she asked for it. She glanced back at Krshia’s shop. It looked more prosperous now; it seemed the Gnoll had recovered some of her fortunes.
“You have enough money coming in now?”
“Oh yes. Business has been good. Better than it was before now that I have new Skills. And if that Octavia could provide me with more potions, and better quality, I could even think about opening a shop.”
Selys meant it. Krshia laughed, baring her teeth.
“So says the Drake with a legendary artifact and more gold than I have earned in my life.”
“It was luck. I didn’t—”
A paw touched her shoulder gently. Krshia smiled without rancor.
“Stop. Do not apologize for fortune. It was merely a joke.”
The Drake hesitated. Then she kept walking. She appreciated what Krshia had said. She’d sounded like Tekshia. But still, how did you start a conversation up after a line like that? Eventually, Selys remembered Octavia.
“What was Octavia asking you for, Krshia? It sounded like she wanted some…help.”
Krshia shook her head.
“That one manufactures her problems like potions. I do not care to get involved; I know a bad investment when I see one. Where are we going? The Watch Barracks?”
She’d spotted the iconic building down the street. Selys nodded. She led the way inside. There was a Drake at the desk. He looked up as Selys walked forwards.
“Can I help you, Miss?”
“Selys Shivertail. I’d like to see Watch Captain Zevara? If she’s not busy.”
The Drake sighed. He looked tired and disinclined to be helpful.
“The Watch Captain is very busy, Miss. If you’d like to wait, I can let her know you’re waiting. But I doubt—”
He cut off as Selys leaned over the desk. She grinned at him, a mimicry of a certain smile she’d seen Erin use now and then. But Selys had her own way of getting what she wanted now.
“Hey. Tell her it’s Selys. Selys Shivertail. The owner of the Heartflame Breastplate? Wall Lord Ilvriss returned it to me a few days ago.”
The Drake sat up. He blinked at Selys and she saw his mouth open a bit. Some of the other [Guardsmen] looked up. Krshia, standing besides Selys, grinned. The Drake stared at Selys, then he stood up.
“One second, Miss Shivertail?”
He was gone for half a minute. Then he came down the stairs and Selys and Krshia went up. That was the thing about being a [Heiress]. And being rich, for that matter. Suddenly, everyone had time for you.
Still, time was not infinite, at least in Watch Captain Zevara’s office. And the Drake made that very clear with a glare that made Selys’ stomach do a flip and fall on its back. She didn’t know how Erin was so flippant around Zevara. The Drake was impressive! Not only was she Oldblood, but she had Selys’ respect, not least because she was a female Watch Captain. Those were rare.
Selys admired Wing Commander Embria too, although they’d never really had a chance to talk. But it was weird. She was Relc’s daughter and that was hard to fathom. Zevara cleared her throat.
“How can I help you, Miss Shivertail? Miss Silverfang?”
She was perplexed, but she heard Selys and Krshia out silently and patiently, tapping one claw on her desk and frowning. When Krshia had finished her outline—with Selys’ new idea included—Zevara leaned back in her chair.
“You want an election. Like…a democracy? That’s unheard of in Liscor. And only Pallass elects its Assembly of Crafts. Miss Krshia, do you think this really has a shot?”
The Gnoll frowned.
“If I did not think so, I would not have brought it up, Watch Captain. But I acknowledge it will be difficult. And yet—the election is the thing. If the Council can be persuaded to hold one, I believe I can win.”
She met Zevara’s eyes firmly. The Watch Captain frowned. She exhaled a plume of smoke. Selys noticed the window was open; it probably had to be with Zevara around.
“An election. You think I can…? Well, I actually can. Or at least, I can make it a big enough issue that the Council has to acknowledge it. But that opens every seat up on the Council. And my position as well—assuming they’d even agree to it.”
Selys and Krshia exchanged a worried glance. The Gnoll coughed.
“I understand this is an issue, Watch Captain. But my proposal would help the city. Would you consider it?”
Zevara shot them an amused glance. She sat up.
“Consider it? I’m halfway towards agreeing. If the Council wants to threaten my job, let them try. I’ve been petitioning them for more money and they haven’t agreed. The Watch needs a full upgrade to everything, from weapons to armor to magical items. The siege and the dungeon prove that. We can’t rely on adventurers forever. If you can get me that money, I’ll help you take this to a democracy. And Ancestors help us all if that happens.”
Selys sucked in her breath. Krshia hesitated.
“That…may be a problem. Liscor is not unlimited in its wealth.”
The Watch Captain nodded.
“I know. But I need that budget. And I understand the Adventurer’s Guild needs more money as well. And your proposals to expand Liscor would solve a lot of domestic issues. If the problem is money…”
Both her eyes and Krshia’s darted sideways to Selys. The Drake [Heiress] held up her claws.
“Hey, I have money, but not enough money to pay for an entire city. We’d need someone with a lot of gold. Like, a lot. Or find a new way to get the city enough money.”
Krshia’s ears drooped slightly. Zevara sighed. Then, suddenly, she opened her eyes again. She spoke very slowly.
“I…do know someone who has a lot of gold to spare. But you and I would need to talk with him.”
She looked at Krshia. The Gnoll frowned, and then raised her eyebrows. Her expression cleared and she almost smiled.
“Ah. I think I know who you mean. That ties in nicely with my plans.”
Selys looked from face to face. The two older adults were giving each other that self-satisfied knowing look. Selys cleared her throat.
“Who do you mean?”
Zevara reached into the cabinet behind her and rifled through the files. She extracted a piece of paper and stared at it, hiding it from Krshia and Selys’ view.
“His Hive, I mean. Yes…they could do a lot. I think.”
“Would he agree?”
Zevara looked up. She bit her lip.
“I can only ask. But before I do that…this is a risk, still. The army won’t like the idea of any kind of election. They might try to interfere. And the Council could well try to replace me if we can’t force an election. This is a risk. I might need to think on it. Give me a day or two, please.”
She looked up at Krshia. The Gnoll nodded, but Selys spotted her place to come in. Because she was on fire now. She’d found a use for both her money and what influence she had. She raised a claw. Both Krshia and Zevara looked at Selys. The [Receptionist] felt silly and lowered her claw. Then she pointed at Krshia before turning to Zevara.
“I don’t think we should wait. The Council usually replaces itself during the spring. Well, the election could take a while so let’s do this now. Krshia, I’m on board with you. I’ll give you four hundred gold coins to jumpstart your campaign. And if Zevara agrees to help…I’ll let her borrow the Heartflame Breastplate for two weeks.”
Krshia’s eyes went round. Zevara’s eyes went even rounder. She half-rose from her chair, then sat down. Selys eyed her with satisfaction. The Watch Captain opened her mouth, caught herself, then coughed.
Zevara nodded tightly. Selys smiled.
She saw Zevara nod, but she had the distinct impression Zevara had just made a triumphant fist under the table. Krshia looked from face to face, grinning with pleasure. Zevara coughed a few times and cleared her throat. Then she rifled her papers unnecessarily.
“I’ll schedule an appointment. Klbkch’s off-duty for the next two days, but he might be able to fit in a meeting in his other capacity. I just need to wait for him to leave his Hive. As for other people to talk to, Olesm would be one. And perhaps…Erin Solstice. Unless, dead gods, this is her idea, isn’t it?”
She paled suddenly. Krshia and Selys both grinned.
“No. For once it’s ours. But Erin Solstice might help.”
“Or hinder. Still—damn, it’s a shame Wall Lord Ilvriss isn’t here. Because you could send her into the City Hall. We still could as a last resort. Although the Council might have my tail if I let her loose on them.”
The Watch Captain was frowning. So were Krshia and Selys, thinking the problem through, and what to say to Klbkch. But it was we now. They were in it together.
And as Selys looked around, at the two older women she respected in the city besides her grandmother, she felt a buoyancy in her chest. She stopped worrying about the money in her apartment and suddenly, wondered if she could persuade Zevara to hold off on the Heartflame Breastplate so she could lend it to the Flamewardens for a bit. After all, they might need more money. And the breastplate would look best on Zevara if she stood next to Krshia while they got her elected.
Suddenly, the world opened up. Selys realized something. This is what she wanted to do. Her worry, her confusion over becoming an adventurer, of how to use what she’d been given disappeared. Because she wasn’t an adventurer. She didn’t want to be one. This was who she was. Why change that?
She was no [Mage]. She couldn’t change the weather, and she was no [Warrior] to swing a sword and bring down a monster. She couldn’t play a [Bard]’s song and captivate an audience or lead an army like a [General]. But she could do all those things.
She could hire an adventurer. She could bribe a crowd or fund a campaign. She could hire a damn army, or at least some [Mercenaries]. And she could make it rain gold. Or silver. That was probably more cost-effective. Selys looked at Zevara and Krshia, then she cleared her throat. They looked at her. A Gnoll who led her tribe in Liscor, and a Watch Captain of a Drake city. And they waited for her to speak. Selys had a big smile on her face as he tail swished back and forth excitedly.
“Hey, do you know if I can buy land in the city? And uh, how much does that cost? Also, Watch Captain Zevara, can I hire the City Watch? Or do I need to talk to adventurers? Because I could really use Relc’s help…”
After all, the breastplate’s just the start.
[Heiress Level 11!]
[Skill – Everything Has a Price obtained!]
[Inheritance – Shadow of His Name obtained!]