TDW: Emergence (Volume 4); Chapter 120

Chapter 120: Collecting Rewards

(Friday, March 11th Game Day / Thursday, May 27th Real Day)

 

The time for recognition was finally at hand.

All those hours spent struggling in the blood, sweat, and shit of my enemies had led to this very moment. This single moment where nothing else mattered as the memories of the past fell to the wayside, to the fields of a distant land of a time gone by, never to return. The war had changed me… as a piece of me had been left back there while my desire brought me here. A desire and an unwavering conviction to a cause that was wholly my own as my efforts transcended the constraints of mere men.

Limited not by the field of battle or by the rules of honorable warfare but by the extent of my imagination, the actions taken were as ruthless and cold-blooded as they come. Yet here I was standing idly by in line as hundreds if not thousands of others stood nearby doing the same. As if we were so different. Mere men, hah, was I truly so far removed?

No…  we weren’t so different.

Mercenaries, that’s all we were.

Hired help on a stage far grander than we deserved because what we actually deserved was minimal. Of all the rewards to be paid, of the recognition for our achievements… we had earned very little of it. Our results lacked merit and the only celebration actually warranted was the physical line that we stood in now.

Ah but what a line it was… what a line it was.

One that went on as far as the eye could see as countless men and countless women impatiently waited to celebrate their moment to come. Even though that moment was never supposed to come as the war had been practically decided in those closing days as the overwhelming odds against us appeared insurmountable. In the face of our hard-fought victory was the fact that as our backs braced against the figurative and literal walls of Wesstown and we found ourselves trapped, the majority readily gave in, mentally abandoning the cause in droves as an indifference to the end took over.

They believed the end was inevitable, that the opportunity for success had passed. Yet while they waited for the end, one single thought consumed my mind as victory was never a forgone conclusion. And in that notion I found what separated me from the rest as I alone bore the weight of success and failure on my shoulders.

It was my blood in the end, my sweat, my tears.

Because in spite of the odds and the negative mentality that hung over the heads of the defeated, I traveled that lonely road and soldiered on, not relenting until victory had been snatched from the jaws of defeat with my own two bloody hands. I had spurred a movement that could not be stopped and then influenced it at every turn and to such a degree that only one of three Houses remained less than a real week later.

In the end, I alone successfully carried out the will of our benefactor.

From behind the curtain, I was the one who pulled the strings.

And when the time came, I was the one who cut them.

 

Maybe we weren’t so different but we weren’t the same.

We didn’t deserve any of it but me… this was my time and they all owed me for it. Hah, yeah… though they would never know it as those sacrifices were made in ways that couldn’t be announced and wouldn’t be claimed. What went on was to be forgotten… to pass with time as it should. That was the nature of the operation.

It was what I had to accept.

 

Now the only thing left was to wait in silence as my turn would eventually come to pass. And for as much as the previous days had weighed on me, nothing could quite compare to what was coming in the following hours as today was finally the day where some of my efforts would be properly acknowledged. One week and a day later in-game to be exact… but my rewards were coming. They were finally coming.

A reward of a hundred gold or more by my count, fair and adequate for all I had been through… and far more than any other. Yeah, no one else would come close but whatever they receive in the future or have already received would be good enough as the majority of them were merely bystanders who profited from the work of a select few.

Most… were rather useless when it counted.

Though despite knowing that, I couldn’t hold it against them even as I disparaged them with my eyes. They needed me as much as I needed them… because even if my participation was greater, even if I carried them on my back, they were still integral to my success as the bodies that shielded me from harm and as the ones who moved when I couldn’t. We all had our roles to play and the end result was what we were facing now.

The Triumvirate had lost, Mr. Sardonic had lost… and I was going to be paid for it.

I was grateful for what I would receive as it could have been worse… yet strangely that wasn’t the case for everyone as more than a few gamers were rather antsy and angry as their excitement could hardly be contained. Standing in line for a period that seemed to rival the battles themselves, the constant reminder of rewards had agitated them so.

It actually seemed as if all of the pain and suffering in those past moments amounted to less than what we faced now while shoulder to shoulder. Stuck in place as the crowds both in front and behind dictated our every move, we were forced to witness and watch the other players celebrate their rewards with purchases of goods all around us.

There was no way to escape it… and as the scenes were impossible to ignore, the burdensome knowledge that money was freely flowing weighed heavily on us all. We knew that we would be participants in short order but… we also knew that the truth was far from it as the reality was that the line itself was a sight to behold.

Over a hundred of them within shouting distance alone, the majority would be in line for hours more. For hours… but conveniently for me I wouldn’t have to wait more than an hour in total if my line continued to move at its current pace.

The wait… was actually almost over for me.

As for the rest though, they would have to endure as the bustling market rows would continue to taunt them with shouts of sales and cries of a foreign happiness that could not be escaped. The results were predictable but the slow change had been an experience in itself as I stood idly by and watched. From the beginning their eagerness had slowly turned to agitation and as time wore on, the pent up anxiety had made them irritable as their anger became contagious. One small complaint carried on as it gave voice to their inner turmoil only to spread like a plague as patience ran thin for most.

It was childish but one could hardly fault them.

Payday had arrived after all.

And we all wanted to be paid.

“If your contributions amount to fifty silver coins or more, please join the line to your right under the red banner!” shouted one of the NPCs running the reward table for what seemed like the hundredth time. “If your contributions amount to forty-nine silver coins or less, please join the line to your left under the green banner!”

Turning my head towards the sound of the voice that had been yelling out directions to the newcomers, the confused faces of those who had been wandering and wondering brought a sadistic smile to my face. The shouts had been increasing in volume and the table was within sight. Another ten minutes at most and I would be the richest player in this town. All that gold and silver would soon be mine… more money than I knew what to do with. Well… maybe not quite more than I knew what to do with.

It was certainly a lot of money but there were plans in place and the gold had already been allocated according to my objectives from before. I needed resources and that hadn’t changed. NPCs and physical goods both animate and inanimate were high on the list, especially livestock and iron. If possible, learning materials concerning potions and the like for my useless apothecary would be highly welcome to get things rolling on that front.

Then there was the question of my newly-acquired enchanter, who would no doubt appreciate a few enchanting resources along the way as she was currently motivated to perform. Crafting schematics were another avenue to look into as well, as a few patterns would pay for themselves in helping shape my crafters’ diversity and productivity going down the road. Whatever could be spent to help improve what was already there in Dragon’s Breach would be spent without any complaint from me. The infrastructure of my settlement was the most important thing at this point in time.

And not to forget… I needed cotton or wool in large quantities to create various types of cloth. Sails, tarps of sorts, alternate types of blankets, and variations of the standard fur and leather clothing all required a form of cloth. Fabrics were essential. I also needed it to finish the town’s market circle as the empty stalls were currently without cover.

Whatever I lacked in the North or found hard to acquire would need to be sought and located here in order to stock up for the coming months. Trips around the continent took too much time at the moment and I couldn’t be everywhere at once. My future depended on my planning today as success was always temporary and fleeting. To stop and rest on my laurels would doom me… I had to continue to progress for the sake of my happiness inside this game. I had to. There was no other way around it.

Sighing lightly as I was beginning to feel overwhelmed, the shortlist of objectives had grown rather sizeable over such a short amount of time to the point where it was hard to prioritize so many needs and wants in a way to most effectively deal with them all. My time was becoming more and more limited as the game went on. There simply wasn’t enough daylight or even nightlight to do everything myself even if I truly wanted to.

That saying… if you want something done right, you should do it yourself… it had weight but it wasn’t practical… not here, not now. Though once I received my reward almost all of my worries would come to an end. A hundred gold give or take… all thanks to the doubling of the rewards due to the razing of Cleftside. That alone could possibly make me the richest player in the game for a day or two. It would disappear in a hurry but for a brief moment in time, I could also say that I was most likely the richest man inside The Dragon’s Wrath. The most wealthiest man in the game. That had a ring to it.

Even if it sounded a bit grammatically fishy.

Laughing silently on the inside, my entertainment to pass the time had been doing wonders as my emotions had remained relatively stable despite those around me nearing the brink. Looking around at the few smug faces of those about to be paid and those who had been paid moments before, even I couldn’t help but feel a little excited at the prospects. All of that money coming my way… more than I ever imagined.

And as I was lost in the thought of coins raining down on me in a brilliant shower of solid gold and silver, I ended up overhearing a conversation between passersby that had recently received payment. Listening to what was being said, it was evident that the reality wasn’t quite as bright or fortunate for some. A shame for them but… only a shame.  

“Yo’ how much you get?” asked the young male passerby.

“More than you,” muttered the older male youth. “You know you don’t measure up.”

Tch get real, you got what, ten more silver than me ass-wipe?” said the younger one.

“Thirty-three silver,” said the older youth. “Yeah, that’s right, get back to me son.”

“Pfft fuck you,” he replied, faking his anger. “I only got twelve, shit.”

“Don’t hate the player bro, hate the game,” said the older of the two as he laughed at his friend’s misfortune. Without missing a step, they continued to walk past the lengthy line where I was patiently waiting my turn while continuing their conversation as if no one else was around. “Hey take it from me, the bromander-in-chief, you got a few bills to spend so you do you, get that gear and step your game up son.”

“What are you on about? Twelve ain’t enough to buy gear and visit Violet,” said the younger one with a grimace as he spat on the dirt road in a show of displeasure.

“Violet?” questioned the friend with an eyebrow cocked up into a peculiar right angle as he crossed his arms. “Violet? That the whore you been seein’ in the north district? The one you been blowin’ dimes on? The fuck is wrong with you man, stop wasting your money on that slut. No wonder you’re a sad sack of shit.”

“She’s not a slut!” he nearly shouted in her defense while ignoring the rest of his friend’s insults. “You better watch yourself, you know better than to talk that ish on another man’s girl. Fuck you’re just jealous, you wish your girl was as hot as mine.”

“She ain’t your girl bro, she’s a whore,” said the friend. “A working girl at best.”

“You don’t know shit, she’s a provider, she doesn’t like the term working girl and she’s not a whore… or a slut,” argued the younger male as he shoved his friend lightly. “You’re judgmental you know that? You need to step outside your narrow worldview. Expand your mind. It’s a legit field of work man. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with it you hear me?” 

“Yeah she’s a provider alright, she’s providing you with a fantasy and you bought in like a chump, get both of your heads out of there man,” replied the older one. “I’m speaking from experience, I had a girl like that too… she played me for a fool bro. I bought that bitch a car man! Then I caught her double dipping with some other dude!”

“That’s your situation foo’, we’re different,” stated the young male as he leaned his head back. “She’s special, tells me all the time how I ain’t like the other guys.”

“The hell, you’re stupid,” said the friend. “You already know she’s got other guys and you still fall for that? Hit it and quit it. Tryin’ to get wifed up to an NPC? Your dumbass is unbelievable you know that? Shit, I’m embarrassed even knowin’ you.”

“I ain’t trying to get wife’d up to nobody you hear me? Damn man you just don’t get it, she’s always goin’ on about me,” explained the youth. “We got a good thing.”

“Yeah you’re so special to her that you can’t afford to see her.”

“That’s uh, that’s because of the rules man.”   

“Yeah, right, the rules you basic bro.”

“Man climb off my back,” he said. “But ‘ey uh, think you can spot me two silver?”

“The hell?! Your punk ass still owes me from last time!” replied the older of the two as his voice trailed off, walking out of earshot. Disappearing into the crowd like the hundreds of players before them and the hundreds more likely to follow after, it had become a familiar sight… though the topic of the conversation was a bit unusual.

“Wow, no shame,” muttered the brunette next to me.

“Disgusting,” replied her blonde-haired friend. “Men are disgusting.”

Smiling at the two girls as they turned to face me for some reason or another, possibly wanting to see whose side I would take, I simply ignored the topic and continued to watch the line move. There were thousands of players wanting to spend their new-found wealth in some fashion and if one wanted to spend it in the brothels then so be it. The only thing that actually bothered me was the man’s attachment to an NPC as that hit a little close to home. He had been acting as if it were a real situation… and I had been too.

“I bet you’re going to the whorehouse afterwards too huh,” said the blonde girl as she looked at me with disdain, taking my silence as an admission of guilt. “All of you are the same, so predictable. It doesn’t even matter if the girls are real or not.”

“Recently single are we?” I asked with a grin.

As the blonde’s face immediately turned from a nasty glare to a blank stare, her friend’s reaction gave it away. Chuckling in plain sight, the brunette couldn’t help herself as the blonde instantly started to mope in front of me.

“How did you know?” asked the brunette as she stopped laughing at her friend, having realized the blonde wasn’t taking it so well. “She just broke up with her boyfriend.”

“It was easy,” I replied with a genuine smile, while trying not to laugh myself.

The tell was in her expressions but I couldn’t admit to that. A look that was hard to miss after one had seen it a few times… the face of a person scorned. Add in the chosen words and if my guess was right, she had been left by her boyfriend for a virtual girl or had found her man dipping into the virtual pot and left him instead. Either way it didn’t really matter though and I couldn’t be bothered to care. It had little to do with me.

“Well now that you’re here, celebrations are in order no?” I asked, as a little part of me wanted to try anyway, to see if she could be cheered up.

“What am I supposed to celebrate?” snapped the blonde, with a snarl clearly directed at me as her friend did her best to ignore it. “Why would I be celebrating?”

“After making it through this Call to Arms?” I stated, with both palms open and at chest-height to accentuate. “Come on now, drinks are well-deserved I’d say. Spend a little, live a little. You can’t help but be happy right now, you’re winning, you’ve won.”

“Drinks huh, that sounds fun,” said the brunette quickly, cutting in before her friend could get another snarky reply out. “We were thinking of getting some gear after… but maybe a drink or two wouldn’t hurt. What about you, what are your plans?”

Noticing her shifting gaze, I followed her eyes as she seemed to be focusing on the two distinctly different lines in front of us. With one colored banner for each that signaled and indicated our incoming wealth, the two of them had occupied the smaller-summed green side as her changing expression gave away the sad reality that they faced. 

“I’ve got plans to meet some friends at the Broken Bell later.”

“Broken Bell, is that your home base?” asked the brunette.

“Yeah, you could say that, the girls like that tavern the most.”

“Ah? We’ve never been,” she replied quietly. “We just got here a few days ago.”

“Oh then if you’re open to suggestions, definitely give it a try,” I said clearly with an innocent expression. “Your other local options are the Salty Lady and the Foxes’ Den but… to put it bluntly? They’re a bit grungy in both clientele and establishment.”

“Maybe we like it a little dirty,” said the brunette with a wink.

“Hey if Wesstown is your thing,” I replied, quickly shrugging.

“No, just no,” she said as a short laugh escaped. “This place is filthy.”

“That’s what I thought,” I teased. “Trust me here, you’ll thank me later.”

“Are you heading there after you get your reward?” she asked slyly, after glancing once more at my line that was moving rather rapidly. “Maybe you could show us the way?”

“Nah, I’ve got to buy some materials first,” I said casually while maintaining eye-contact. “I’ll probably head over there around seven or eight, what works for you?”

“Materials? What are you, a crafter?” questioned the blonde with a bratty voice, interrupting our conversation as her displeasure was clear to see after having been ignored for the duration. Letting a single laugh escape me, the brunette’s pained expression was a comical sight as well as her angling for a free drink was being casually ruined by her friend who was upset that no one was paying attention to her.

As if she couldn’t understand that no one cared for the attitude.

“Me? No, the materials are for my settlement,” I said calmly, with a shake of my head and a light smile as the blonde’s blank stare immediately returned after hearing my words.

“You have a village? Like it’s actually yours?” asked the brunette.

“Yeah, not the same size as this one here though,” I answered honestly.

“No way, that’s so cool!” replied the brunette. “Is it here in the Middle Kin-”

“It’s probably a lot smaller huh,” said the blonde rudely, cutting off her friend.

Laughing a little at her emphasis on the size of my town, even her friend was a little taken aback by the blonde’s behavior. Giving her an odd look and then smiling at me as if to apologize for the blonde’s words, I found it easy to forgive in the moment. It was hard to take personally anyway as it had nothing to do with me. She was only venting.

“Less people, sure,” I stated with a smile and a wink. “I wouldn’t say smaller though.”

“Yeah well I’m a lightning mage,” boasted the blonde out of nowhere. “After we get our reward, we’re heading to Harehed to visit the trainers, I’m going to be one of the highest-level lightning users in the game. I’ve already learned Chain Lightning.”

“Wow, that’s shocking,” I said, feigning surprise over her achievement.

“You probably saw my magic during the battles,” she bragged with her nose up, as her friend simply shook her head and looked on in amazement. “It’s rare you know.”

“It can be difficult to see a blinding white light,” I said playfully.

“I doubt you’d even know if it hit you,” she retorted. “You would be stunned.”

“I probably wouldn’t even feel it,” I said with a slow shrug and a stupid grin.

“What?” she asked, with confusion displayed on her face. “Never mind.”

Letting the conversation die as the lines shifted, my right line had moved forward once again as theirs appeared to remain in place. As they were in the left line with a less than fifty silver coin reward, the sheer number of people ahead of them made every shuffle forward all the more difficult to notice. And yet for whatever reason the blonde seemed to be offended by that fact too. Even as her friend stood there next to her embarrassed.

Ignoring her aggressive behavior as she continued to glare at me with the intent to magically burn a hole through me, I was then relieved by the moving line as we had finally been separated. Only to be disappointed as we were reunited moments later as her line moved forward as well, allowing her to catch up with me in the nick of time.

“I’m level thirty-seven,” she said randomly as she caught up to me.

“Good for you,” I quipped as my patience was starting to run out.

“What level are you?” she asked next, eager to compare for whatever reason.

“Effective level is around one-hundred and eighty, I think,” I stated nonchalantly.

“You’re lying,” she said, as she stepped out of her line and positioned herself in front of me. “There’s no way your effective level is that high, my EL is only fifty-one.”

“Is that so,” I mumbled while crossing my arms. “Because yours is fifty-one?”

“You’re full of it, there’s no way someone dressed like you is one of the highest.”

“Yeah and you would know wouldn’t you?” I questioned with a smirk.

“I know high level players wear better gear than the trash you’re wearing.”

“That’s great, I’m glad you’re a bastion of knowledge,” I said bluntly as the line in front of me had moved considerably. “If you would excuse me though, my line is moving.”

“What, got nothing to say after I called you out for your lies?”

“All I’ve got to say is the world doesn’t revolve around you,” I stated clearly while locking eyes with her. “Maybe if you realized that, you wouldn’t be single now.”

“You’re an asshole,” she said as her face quickly reddened.

“Yeah and your shit smells like roses, I get it,” I muttered.

“No, you’re full of shit,” she retorted immediately.

As a dozen pair of eyes had shifted their gazes towards the two of us, I couldn’t help but notice that her friend had covered her face with her hands in embarrassment. Yet somehow the blonde in front of me remained oblivious as I decided to stop replying.

And so it went as she continued to rant for what felt like an hour… but was actually only a few minutes as her anger had gotten the better of her as a reply from me never came. Antagonizing and pushing for a response while failing to get one, she became increasingly self-conscious as the minutes went by… and as the stares around us all began to focus on her, she finally realized far too late that she had gone too far.

Then it ended almost as quickly as it started as she flipped me off and cursed a few more times before storming off into the distance by her lonesome, leaving her friend behind to deal with all of the attention and the embarrassment that she was largely responsible for. And as there was no longer a spunky blonde to stare at, all eyes were now between the brunette and me as they were curious as to what would happen next.

Though I wasn’t too concerned over the gazes of strangers, I was left wondering why the blonde singled me out of the crowd to pick her fight. Of all the guys and girls around her, I lucked out. But none of it really mattered in the end as I couldn’t resist the easy insult. She should have been ignored from the start and my mistake was engaging with her… even if it was with good intentions originally. My… attempt to distract was a failure.

“Eh, oh well,” I mumbled to myself as an awkward silence filled the air.

“You couldn’t just let her be?” asked the brunette, still embarrassed over the whole scene but with a hint of anger now showing. “You knew… I even told you, she just broke up after being cheated on and you had to give her a hard time? Thanks a lot.”

“You’re right, I could have,” I replied without much care.

“But you didn’t,” she said with an audible sigh as she looked back at the lengthy line behind her, clearly contemplating whether she should follow after her friend or not at the risk of losing her spot. “Ugh no... never mind me, it’s not your fault, so please don’t take what she said personally. She’s just been through a lot, she’s usually not like that.”

“I’m not bothered in the least, just message her to come back after she’s vented,” I suggested, as I eyed all of the open space between me and the next person in my line. “You’ve got maybe forty ahead of you and hundreds behind, plus I’ll be gone in five minutes… she won’t see me again. No point in you losing your spot.”

“Ah…,” she mumbled as she began to fiddle with her menu.

As I had been holding up the line behind me, there were only ten people ahead of me now but I had stayed nearly fifteen paces back due to my discussion with the brunette and the blonde. It was a bit rude but as the argument had been heard, none of the ones behind me complained in the moment. Though now that the blonde had left, they were getting anxious to move forward despite the fact that moving had little to no effect on the amount of time one would be waiting. It was only a psychological trick in the end.

Though it was a trick that worked as my turn had finally arrived.

“Next!” called out a familiar male NPC, one that I had hoped to never see again.

Stepping forward from my position in line and walking up to the table, the same male NPC from the registration of the Call to Arms was absentmindedly staring through me.

“Papers,” he said calmly without taking any notice of me.

Handing over the papers as I stole a glance at the two familiar female inhabitants occupying the green-flagged table, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was a stroke of my particular brand of luck to be placed with the same bad-tempered male. Starting with the long wait in line and then adding on to that the encounter with the blonde… now I was being met with the worst possible NPC to top it all off. As far as I could tell my day was progressively worsening by the minute but thankfully though it was almost over.

“Would you prefer large denominations of gold or smaller denominations of silver?” he asked routinely while unfolding the parchment, having yet to actually look at it.

“Ninety-percent gold will do,” I replied clearly with hands behind my back. 

“Ah, yes, Alliance Zero,” muttered the NPC with a snooty tone.

Ignoring his remark as I watched him struggle with the magical parchment, his face had begun to twitch as he began to read what was in front of him. Fiddling with my paperwork as he cross-referenced it with a separate sheet that he had on the table, his displeasure was clearly displayed for all to see as I internally laughed at the situation.

Despite his distaste and dislike, he would be forced to hand me a hundred or more gold in a moment and as he suffered in silence, I would be rejoicing. My work was finished and now it was time to get paid. Arrogant NPC or otherwise, my future was bright.

Then as he finished reading and comparing the paperwork in front of him, he turned and looked back at another NPC that had been standing a few feet away. Nodding once at the man and receiving a slight nod back in confirmation, he then turned to face me with the same blank expression as before. Looking straight through me as if I didn’t exist with eyes seemingly glazed over. As if he couldn’t be bothered to look at or acknowledge me.

I had half a mind to straighten him out… but my rewards were coming.

“I am to inform you that we cannot service your request for payment,” he said bluntly with a rude tone of voice. “Now step aside, you’re in the way of the other patrons.”

 

“Next!” he called out towards the line behind me.

 

And then they weren’t coming.

Caught completely off guard, I stood in place as he tried to dismiss me with a wave of his hands as if I were inconveniencing him to such a degree that I should be embarrassed with myself. As if… I wasn’t worthy of being in his presence, the lowly man that I was.

“Excuse me?” I asked with an audible exhale, as I tried to clear my mind.

“Are your ears not functional?” he questioned back. “Step aside. Now.”

“Heh… nah, I’m only going to ask you this once, where’s my reward?”

“Must I repeat myself,” he muttered under his breath as the look on his face told me everything that he refused to say while his eyes conveyed the rest.

“No you’re going to do one better and explain the situation,” I stated clearly with one hand placed openly on the table while the other remained concealed behind my back.

Rolling his eyes in response to my words, he let out a deep and overly-exaggerated sigh as he dropped his shoulders forward. Head falling slightly as if he couldn’t stand the stupidity in front of him, he repeated another sigh as he tilted his head and looked off to the side, averting his eyes completely and with such flair that I wanted to smack him.  

“Idle threats won’t help your cause nor will your simplistic brutish behavior,” he mouthed with hardly a sound as he stared at the skyline.  

Forced to interpret through the movement of his lips, his deviant behavior had pushed me far enough as my patience and compassion were long gone.

“Who says it’s idle,” I replied as I locked eyes with him.

As he rolled his eyes again in mock defiance, the other NPC that had been standing behind him stepped forward with a raise of a hand and a slight bow.

“Excuse me Adventurer, I believe there is some confusion between parties,” he explained as he attempted to diffuse the situation. “My compatriot merely meant to pass you along to me, so we can discuss the… unique circumstance that has befallen a, ahem, man of your stature. Please, if you would follow me….”

Looking up as I heard his words, the second man’s face seemed to be as arrogant as the first but in this situation there were a hundred golden reasons to remain calm as an explanation was likely coming. Yet even though I knew that, watching the first reward-giver snicker at me as he clearly recalled me from before made it hard to bear.

But bear it I would, as my priority was to receive a hundred-plus gold.

Shaking my head with another slow exhale, I nodded at the senior reward-giver in front of me as he turned and led the way into a small building directly behind the bustling activity of the reward-tables. Though as he opened the door and invited me in, I was able to barely hear one last remark from the NPC at the table that drew my ire.

“What a stupid fool,” he said to himself. “Alliance zero, a complete and utter idiot.”

Ignoring the last quip on the surface as I laughed away internally, I knew his confidence came from the fact that he was a protected citizen and that beyond that, he was only a shell. Not allowing the words of an inconsequential being bother me, I stepped through the doorway of the inconspicuous building without any hesitation.

Once inside though, the first thing to catch my eye was a bag of gold placed squarely on top of the center of a table… as other bags of gold, silver, and copper completely littered the floor all around me. Practically piled from the ground to the ceiling… there was no telling how much money had been amassed inside this unassuming storage room.

“Step forward if you would,” said a guard from my left side, as he moved to close the door behind me so that no one else could see what was going on inside.

 Yet as soon as the door was shut a handful of guards quickly surrounded me as they began to crowd me forward towards the center of the room. Left with only a minimal amount of personal space, I turned my focus to the faces next to me as they in turn looked away. Letting out an audible exhale as I began to stretch my shoulders in response, the movements caused them to back off slightly as they gave me another foot to breathe.

Satisfied with the space given, I began to look around the room once more as the sight of closed chests lined against the walls came into view. So much coin… yet so little safety as only fifteen or so guards were visible within the room.

But at that moment a realization settled in.

“Ah, so you mean to pay me out of sight of the others,” I said to the senior reward-giver that had brought me here, with a smile appearing on my face as I was happy to know that my payment was coming. “I can understand and appreciate the thought.”

If hundreds of eyes had witnessed the exchange of large sums of money, public order would be hard to maintain. All of those overeager adventurers itchy and ready to go at a moment’s notice… all of those people who struggled to contain their enthusiasm. Only one of them would need to make a move and the rest would follow.

That… would be complete chaos if it came to it.

“No, this is not for you,” he stated confidently, despite his shifting feet and wrinkling face showing a bit of uneasiness. “I am sorry to inform you but as was said before, we cannot service your request for payment. We do not have any gold for you.”

 

And then my rewards weren’t coming, again.

 

“Alright,” I said, stopping myself for a second as I exhaled audibly.

Rubbing my brow as the tension was starting to get to me, his response left little to the imagination as my understanding of the situation was being seriously challenged.

“Care to explain that a little better?” I asked calmly and clearly.

“Unfortunately we cannot pay you in gold for your services.”

“Okay… so in silver and copper then?” I questioned slowly.

“No neither, you will not be paid in coin for your services,” he said quickly, as he started to pace the room. “There will be no payments made in any form of currency… instead, you will be awarded territory as per the stipulation in the Oath as the contract states and has stated since the beginning. The one you signed with your own hand.”

“Yeah… about that,” I stated with a slightly lowered voice. “You’re going to have to give me a better explanation than that. I’ve been patient so far so let me ask you this, you clearly have the coin right there… so why can’t you pay me?”

“We, the House of Harmont, owe you a far larger sum than was imagined… an unreasonable amount, truly,” he explained with a flick of his wrist. “One cannot expect to be paid such a large sum, what would one even do with it? It would ruin you… a life so inexperienced, to receive so much and so quickly. Truly, we are doing you a favor.”

“You are not doing me any favors,” I replied quickly.

Tsk. You are proving my point with every sentence,” he muttered as a smirk appeared on his face. “No matter, your just reward will be in territory as was described in the Oath before the first battle. Claimable for the purpose of rebuilding… honored by order of influence, that is all. Check it if you wish, the words are there if you have eyes.”

Letting off a light laugh as I scratched the bridge of my nose, his words were only vaguely accurate out of context of the situation. Territory could be assigned as an alternate reward but it was worded as a bonus, not as an outright replacement. I was very much entitled to coin and I had every right to refuse the alternate reward. He wasn’t going to fool me with his words… and I wasn’t going to allow him to coerce me into it either.

“I believe there’s been a mistake,” I said confidently as I looked him in the eyes. “I am more entitled than anyone in this town. If you would only look at my parchment.”

“There has been no mistake, you will receive territory,” he replied rudely.

“Then you would offer me a piece of land… of what used to be Cleftside instead,” I said slowly and with an even lower pitch than before, as my effort to remain civilized was beginning to tax me. “Territory of a burned-out castle-town instead of the gold that I rightfully deserve? The gold that I rightfully deserve far more than any other?”

“You are not entitled to any coin,” he said bluntly. “And Cleftside still stands. An unlearned youth such as yourself, an inexperienced life… wouldn’t know that Cleftside is the name of the hill where a small village once sprouted from. What you refer to as the castle-town that evolved from that village, well, those were buildings and nothing more.”

“Hah, a hill… as if a hill was worth something to me?” I questioned lightly as I tried to restrain my laughter. “Alright tell me this then, who owns this land that is supposed to substitute for coin? According to the Oath… the Harmonts own it?” 

“It seems you do have eyes,” he answered swiftly and without pause. “The Harmonts have supplied the campaign and have managed it every step of the way… it is only right that they are the governing land-owners and yes, it was stated in the Oath.”

“Right… of course,” I mumbled while closing my eyes, as I began to rub my brows in an effort to relieve the tension that was continuing to build. “Then if they retain ownership, what claims if any do the adventurers have to the land itself?”

“Free use of the land and the rights to any income generated from or on it,” he explained with a pained expression, as his frustrations became apparent.

“Rights to any… and all income generated?” I asked quickly.

“Excepting a small tax and fees, as is standard,” he replied.

“Ah so that’s how it is,” I said with an unrestrained grin as the truth was now out in the open. “You would gift us land as an equal to gold and silver, only to tax us on it over the long-run… and if we do not want it anymore… it returns to your possession.”

“This conversation has gone on long enough,” spat out the reward-giver as he leaned against the table at the center of the room. “Your rewards will be handled in Cleftside.”

“No, you don’t get to choose when this conversation ends,” I stated sternly and loudly as I took a step forward. “You provided the original contract and I agreed to it, now that it has come time to pay, you wish to pull a fast one and sneak it past me? No.”

“I have no desire to speak with you any further,” replied the arrogant senior reward-giver as he simultaneously signaled at the guards with his left hand.

Angling my head slightly down towards the ground as I watched the shadows on the floor, the guards in the room had nearly encircled me except for my front as they attempted to physically intimidate me by way of proximity. Bumping me from behind as a show of force, the random guard’s nudge was too weak to move me as I simply turned my face around. Looking at the offender as he showed an uncertainty in his eyes, another guard bumped me from the right as he then placed his arm on my shoulder.

“Les’ no’ cu’s a scene ye?” said the guard, as he leaned into me and shifted his weight onto my shoulder with a bit of muscle behind it.

“So this is how the Harmont’s do business?”

“‘Is ‘ow we do business,” whispered the right-guard into my ear.

“Yeah? Well I’m still not interested in the territory option,” I said clearly as the corner of my mouth crept up into a grin. “I will have the gold as is my right, as was stated in the contract that I signed, the one that your House wrote. Those were the stipulations.”

“Unfortunately you are the one who is mistaken,” the reward-giver retorted sharply as he tilted his head slightly back. “The right to decide lies with the House of Harmont and they have decided in this matter. You are to receive land as your reward and you will find it in Cleftside. You may excuse yourself now, the door is behind you.”

As another guard placed his hand on my left shoulder and repeated the same movements as the one on my right, the one from behind decided to join in as he poked my back instead of another failed nudge. Letting them do as they pleased as I began to weigh the consequences… any physical retaliation would likely end in a Reputation penalty for me. For now, my only option was verbal… unless they took the first step.

“You may want to take a look at my parchment,” I suggested while maintaining my position with a guard hanging off each shoulder. “I do find it odd though that a faction as lowly as the Harmonts would try something like this, awfully bold really.”

“How dare you…,” mumbled the reward-giver angrily as his face turned pink.

“One only has to look at the state of Wesstown to see how Cleftside will end up with the Harmonts in charge,” I continued without any remorse. “A dirty wretched town… heh, which reminds me, do the Harmonts even provide a single service that is worthy of a tax?”

“Hold your tongue adventurer or I will have it held for you,” he said loudly.

“Ah? Why would I? You act as if the Harmonts have any worth to their name, as far as I’m aware these tactics and their actions… I expect as much from gutter trash.”

“How dare you!” he screamed with shock and disdain clearly spread across his face as his cheeks flushed red with anger. “Such nerve! Do you have no sense of shame?! You would mock your benefactor?! YOU would spit on their home?! Our home?!”

“How dare me?” I questioned quickly. “You don’t even know who I am.”

“Hah! And yet you act as if you know the worth of the Harmonts!” he yelled, bewildered. “The House of Harmont provides security, order, diplomacy, trade, and social benefits to those in need… what more can one ask for?! How benevolent must one be!”

“Benevolent… in relation to your breaking of the contracts?” I argued back, holding my position firmly as his eyes began to bulge. “Nothing more than a shameful display.”

“Silence! I’ve had enough!” he shouted as he waved an arm frantically. “Be gone from my sight and do not return! Guards! Remove him immediately!”

“Ye ‘eard ‘im,” mumbled the guard on my right, as he began to push me.

“Push again and you’ll find a knife embedded behind your jaw and beneath an ear,” I said coldly while staring him down. “Try it, you won’t see it.”

“What with this knife on your chest?” asked the guard on my left.

“No, this one,” I said as I dropped my robe to the ground and pulled a knife from my side before it hit the floor, and then with a sharp turn and thrust the blade found itself an inch away from the questioner’s chin as I held steady. “Or maybe it was the other one?”

“Ah,” mumbled the guard as his neck muscles tightened up, freezing in place.

“Push me again and no one will leave this room alive,” I said, for good measure.

“G-guards?!” chirped the reward-giver as his anger disappeared. “Guards!”

Sensing a movement from behind as the right-guard began to pull his sword, I shoved the left-guard with my free hand and watched as he crashed backwards into a chest, causing silver and copper to spill out onto the floor in a colorful and noisy mess. Slipping and stumbling as he tried to get up as the loose coins slid along the dirt, I then quickly turned my body and focus to the back-guard as I grabbed his cloth and leather collar and tugged him forward. Clinching and twisting my grip as I yanked him down to the ground, the sudden movement caught him unaware as I managed to direct his fall.

Guiding him into the right-guard who had just managed to unsheathe his sword, the momentum and weight of the falling man sent them both tumbling to the ground with hardly a sound save for the thud of the colliding bodies. Yet as soon as he hit the dirt, the right-guard gripped his sword and began to climb over his comrade as his eyes met mine.

And as he raised his sword and pointed it at me, I stepped forward and around him and quickly took his back as I positioned myself on top of him. Ignoring his blade as my thighs and knees clamped against his waist and thighs, I then placed the tip of my knife behind his jaw and beneath his ear only to let it dangle loosely. Dragging the cold sharp iron along his skin slowly and carefully so as not to scratch and draw blood for a second or two before stopping and holding it in place, what came next was the sound of a blade hitting the ground as he released his grip and relaxed his arms.

Lifting my head slightly in an instant as I scanned the rest of the room, the remaining guards had kept their position along the walls and towards the rear door as they watched in silence, refusing to move in the moment for some imagined reason. The man beneath me… and subsequently the man beneath him, were also frozen in fear as they waited.

“Check my parchment and tell me with a straight face that you would deny me.”

“W-we don’t have your parchment,” muttered the reward-giver as he huffed and puffed in front of me in an attempt to catch his breath, as his heart was undoubtedly racing from the shock of how quickly the tables had turned. “L-let’s be calm now… yes?”

“Alliance Zero, that enough for you?” I questioned rudely. “Or are you so incompetent that you cannot even… ah… so that’s it, you can’t even read can you?”

Watching as the man swallowed a lump in his throat, all of his confidence had left him in the moment as his belief in his personal guards had led him astray.

“You there, that list in your hands… is my total on that list?” I asked.

“Ah,” voiced the guard towards the back of the room.

“And?” I questioned immediately.

“Y-yes, the man in question… A-alliance Zero,” stuttered the guard as he flipped through the sheets of parchment in his hands, having decided to not wait for the reward-giver’s consent in this touchy matter. But then as the seconds passed us by, the guard appeared to have found something as his eyes lit up in reaction and with a quick wave at the reward-giver, the guard leaned over and whispered into his ear.

Watching as his face grew pale from what he heard, I knew that my name had finally reached them. And in an almost comical fashion, the reward-giver then clasped both of his hands together at the front of his tunic and then began to wipe his sweaty palms off as he slid his hands down to his sides and then behind his back. Ending with a nervous laugh as his eyes darted from one side of the room to the other, he tried to play it off.

“Ah let’s be sensible shall we?” he asked politely with a slight raise in pitch at the end. “I’m sure we can come to an understanding with your right to lease the territory.”

“What was on the list?” I asked roughly, as I pointed at the guard with my free hand.

“T-that’s not important… let’s calm down… you will find your answers in Cleftside.”

“My answer is on that list,” I replied angrily, as I began to collect lightning around my body in preparation for a discharge. “Have you already forgotten the recent past?”

“All this nonsense over a handful of coins, the ungratefulness is truly telling,” he said whimsically as he shook his head, only to then pucker his lips as he realized his gaffe.

“You are in no position to be spouting insults you titled peon,” I replied.

“I am sorry… but this is non-negotiable,” he stated with a forced confidence as he attempted to regain his composure. “I… will ask you to leave once more or else....”

“You there with the parchment, read me my details or this guard here dies.”

“Do not read that list!” shouted the peon as he waved his hands in the air and scuttled around the table, putting distance and objects between us. “Guards, move now! He has threatened us! Take him quickly! He cannot kill you all!”

Hearing his command, a few guards took a step forward as the one beneath me tightened up and whispered a few select words that made me laugh in the moment.

“Is jus’ business,” he muttered under his breath. “Ye don’ ‘ave to kill me.”

Laughing out loud as the lightning around me became unstable and started to randomly discharge with small bolts that harmlessly hit the dirt, all of the guards froze up once more as they looked back at each other before deciding to halt their advance.

“Ha… man… read my credentials now, before I turn you all into stiffs.”

“Y-yes, I can do that,” stuttered the guard with the parchments, as he put his finger to the list and began to read. “The man known as Alliance Zero, h-he amassed a total-”

“Stop what you are doing, that is an order!” yelled the peon, cutting him off. “There is no need to read that list, the truth is that you will receive territory in Cleftside!”

“The man known as Alliance Zero amassed a total of three-hundred and forty-seven kills,” said the guard loudly and clearly, ignoring the peon’s orders. “Fifty-two of which were Known Threats, twelve were Notable Threats, and one was an Exceptional Threat.”

Grinning as the words were read out loud and as the titled-peon’s face contorted in an odd mixture of fear and rage, my objective had finally been completed.

 “The assist total,” continued the guard, as he started at the parchment. “Is listed as eight-hundred and seventy-three, of which a hundred and seventeen were Known Threats and twenty-six were Notable. Participation total comes out to tw-two… two-thousand and eleven with two-hundred and forty Known Threats, plus fifty-six Notables.”

At the completion of his statement, all of the remaining guards in the room began to inch back, slinking towards the exit as they released their grips on their sheathed weapons and prepared to retreat. All fifteen of them… sans the two underneath me, moving to abandon the peon that had ordered them to their deaths only moments before.

The tide had changed… and momentum was now on my side.

“Ah, there are also other bonuses listed here,” mumbled the guard as the reward-giver’s head snapped back in shock as if he had been slapped with a fish, mouth open and completely at a loss for words, unable to wrap his mind around the situation.

“Go on, I’m listening,” I said playfully with a wave of my hand, letting sparks fly harmlessly off my fingertips as I watched the reward-giver’s head sway from side to side.

“In no particular order, for valiant bravery in the face of insurmountable odds, Alliance Zero has been rewarded with a bonus of thirty silver,” he said, reading directly from the list and with such a neutral tone that it was almost comical.

“You… y-you fools…,” stuttered the reward-giver as he struggled to piece his thoughts together into a coherent sentence. “You’ve doomed us all….”

“For ranking first in individual contribution, Alliance Zero has been rewarded with a bonus of one-hundred silver coins,” stated the guard.

“No… stop,” muttered the shocked reward-giver.

“For inspiring the troops and leading the charge on multiple occasions, providing support for his allies, and coordinating plans and tactics throughout the entire duration of the war, Alliance Zero has been rewarded with a bonus of fifty silver coins.”

“…,” silently mouthed the reward-giver.

“And for sowing confusion amongst the enemy ranks in the last battle to defend Wesstown, by way of infiltration and sabotage on the field of battle during a time of activity concurrent with the fighting, Alliance Zero has been awarded a bonus of fifty silver for his actions. Those actions which were witnessed and attested to by fellow allied adventurers of a reputable nature through their individual Oaths.”

“Why me…,” mumbled the reward-giver as he closed his eyes and covered his ears.

“That concludes all of the issued rewards for the subject known as Alliance Zero,” said the guard as he rolled up the magically-enhanced parchment. “As you were.”

“Eleven-thousand, three-hundred and eighty-one silver,” I stated.

Standing up as my discharge had been fully released without any harm befalling anyone, I then let the guards beneath me go as they quickly shuffled their feet and moved to the back of the room in order to join their fellows behind the reward-giver.

“Eleven-thousand, three-hundred and eighty-one silver,” I repeated. “Three-hundred and forty-seven kills, eight-hundred and seventy-three assists, and two-thousand and eleven participations. How dare me, you said? How dare me?”

“Those numbers are… unimportant,” replied the peon, as he glanced back at the guards that had already surrendered behind him. “The Harmonts will not negotiate.”

“I want my gold, all one-hundred and thirteen of it,” I stated clearly.

“All of the money in this room is accounted for by the other four-thousand some adventurers waiting outside this room,” he explained more sensibly with a hand held to his forehead, as he leaned against the table and attempted to steady his shaky legs. “We cannot afford to pay you at the cost of hundreds… thousands, of other adventurers.”

“If you had led off with that… I may have been more receptive,” I said sharply.

“It… doesn’t matter, you will not be paid in coin, stop being obstinate.”

“Already back to the insults, will you threaten me next?” I asked.

“It’s not my decision, we cannot pay you such a large sum of gold,” he replied as his legs began to shake more vigorously. “Think… please, of the others that would be denied if we were to pay you such a large sum. It’s inconceivable to pay so few, so much.”

“That’s not my problem and I do not owe you any favors, I will have my gold.”

“You will not be paid in coin!” he yelled, exasperated by the situation. “It cannot be done and if you think you can take what is yours here, let it be known that every adventurer standing out there will hear of your deeds! That you, yes YOU, took their money from them! If you think they will stand by you-ah-h-”

“Arc Lightning,” I mouthed silently as the only sounds that now filled the room were the crackles of electricity splitting the air. Lightning pulsating from my extended hand as the reward-giver convulsed in place unable to utter another word, my face had turned cold as I watched him suffer. Crumbling to his knees after less than two seconds of resistance and hitting the floor with a thud, the guards continued to stand idly by watching the scene unfold as beads of sweat dripped down their faces.

Frozen in place, unwilling to move.

Faces filled with fear, their heads filled with numbers of kill counts hardly fathomable. They could not comprehend the man in front of them and they dared not make a move over the life of a spoiled bureaucrat. He had brought this on himself after all. The man had failed to verify who it was that he was talking to… and it proved to be a grave mistake.

“Killing is my business and that business is paid for in coin!” I yelled loudly enough for all of them to hear as I threw my hand back and broke the lightning tether that connected us. “I have no more compassion for the likes of you. Do not test me any further… I care little for what you think or for what problems you may have.”

“Hahh, haa… haa… y-you, you’re a tyrant!” croaked the man with labored breath as he remained curled up on the floor, sobbing silently while in pain.

“I am a man who is tired of being betrayed by those he puts his faith and trust in,” I said as I spat on the floor. “Your crooked dealing brought this, you brought this upon yourselves. After all I’ve done… you would deny me? Me?!”

“What more can I do?!” he shouted back while clutching his chest. “You ask for the impossible, the treasury has its limits and it has already reached those limits! You’re being unreasonable! The others, they took the territory without complaint! They thanked me!”

“Thank you? You? Your territory is useless to me,” I replied with a dismissing wave. “You would offer me a hectare or two inside Cleftside? A couple of acres? I have thousands of such acres. What you offer is worthless to me. You are beginning to be worthless.”

“How, how was I supposed to know?” he complained while still writhing in pain on the floor. “These matters are above me… I cannot help you!”

“Then find someone who will,” I stated slowly and clearly. “If you cannot truly pay me in coin at the risk of offending hundreds of adventurers then I want an equitable reward. Pay me in resources, materials, livestock, weapons, armor, anything that has real value. Do not insult me again with an offer for a taxed territory that is only owned in name.”

Turning around and walking towards the door as I knew nothing else could be gained by staying, my last thought was to set a deadline for my demands but even I understood the time constraints of such a request. If they weren’t ready… simply demanding it wouldn’t make it so. One week though was enough time, anymore and I was doing them too many favors. A day in-game was also enough for them to wrap their heads around it.

“You have until tomorrow…,” I said vaguely as I put my robe back on and opened the door that led to the reward tables. “Have an alternate reward ready… or have someone with the ability to discuss the details here. You have eight hours, no more.”

Pausing before I stepped through the doorway, there was one last thing that needed to be checked before I could cross the line that separated the secluded room and the busy streets. Opening my menu to check my status, the most important detail of the entire affair was that my name had yet to turn red. Not only that but my reputation had not been penalized for my actions either. I had attacked an inhabitant here.

And nothing had happened for it.

Exiting the building that was directly behind the tables, my attention was then turned to the one NPC that was left unharmed as he too turned and glanced my way. Snickering at me as he looked down on me with his tongue sticking slightly out of his open mouth, he wagged it in a way that signaled his victory. He believed himself impervious under the law… under the protection of the Harmonts. As if he knew this moment was coming.

But as I walked up to the inhabitant that had insulted me far too many times, the shadow of the titled-peon became visible by the door of the reward-room. Standing there as he watched me walk away… he was witness to what would come next.

Smirking to no one in particular as I silently drew a knife from a sheath on my chest with my right hand, I then decided to meet the NPC’s eyes with a wink. As he finally closed his mouth in confusion, his brows started to furrow as he tried to understand what my eyes were conveying. He wanted to question me but his answer was already coming.

Dashing forward in an instant and hammering the hilt of the knife into his stomach, he immediately coughed and hunched over from the impact as my left hand shot upwards in a blur. Grabbing his tongue from his now open mouth as he tried to regain his lost breath, wind knocked out of him, I pulled harshly on his fleshy bit as his face lurched forward with body following thereafter.

One quick tug with my left then a swipe with the right and in a flash he fell to the ground bloodied and dirtied as he sat on his ass with mouth loosely covered by two shaky hands. Completely overtaken by shock with eyes rolling back, blood continued to pour out of his mouth as he started to lose consciousness in front of the stunned crowd.

Fading in and out in what was only a second or two in reality, he finally passed out and fell to his side as the confused reactions of passerby and bystanders began to erupt all at once.  Then the screams of inhabitants and adventurers alike filled the air.

“Help!” shouted some random NPCs. “Someone’s been attacked!”

“Drop your weapon!” yelled the nearest guard, as two of them drew their swords and quickly flanked me. “I said drop your weapon, criminal scum!”

Ignoring their demands as I turned to face the reward-giver that I had previously used Arc Lightning on, a lump had clearly developed in his throat as he attempted to swallow his fear. Closing his eyes as if he were trying to ignore the horrific sights in front of him, I could only laugh internally at the situation before me as the pitiful sight was rather becoming of him. He deserved this moment. Looking at him with severed tongue in hand, I tossed it at his feet without any hesitation as I continued my expressionless stare.

“Hold that tongue, reward-giver,” I said as I turned my back to him.

“Halt!” yelled the guards with weapons drawn. “You are under arrest!”

“You would do well to move out of my way,” I said calmly, if not quietly.

“This is your last warning,” said the larger of the two guards as he lowered himself into a stance. “If you resist arrest, then you will pay with blood adventurer.”

“N-no l-let him go,” stuttered the higher-ranked reward-giver from his position by the door as he momentarily eyed the tongue. “No more blood… no more.”

“Sir… we… he’s a criminal,” quietly argued the nearest guard.

 Covering his mouth as he closed his eyes once more, he slowly shook his head from side to side as a single wave dismissed them. No other words were spoken as the guards lowered their weapons and uncharacteristically moved out of the way. Bewildered by the occurrence, the stupefied expressions weren’t limited to the guards alone though as the crowd shared their confusion. Listening to the narrative as they had been, completely caught unaware by the situation at hand, none of them were the wiser.

And as their shrieks and cries were replaced with hushed talks and short whispers, one individual caught my eye. Standing at the front of the line with her smug look and defiant behavior completely absent, it was as if her confidence had fallen to the floor with the tongue that was severed moments before. The level thirty-seven lightning mage.

“Far too green,” I whispered to myself before continuing on.

Heading back towards the location of my room via the crowded streets of the market rows, it wasn’t long before I noticed a few adventurers had been following me from a distance, curious to discover who would carry out such an act in broad daylight. An act that was front-page news if they could discover my identity… but thankfully that’s what robes and hoods were for as my face had been concealed throughout.

The only ones who saw my face were the two girls while in line.

My hope… was that I hadn’t fudged it all up and that the two didn’t recognize my back from their position by the table. If they went over their footage… if the blonde felt a need for revenge, then I had screwed myself over. But even if that did happen… what was another face in a game filled with half-a-million faces. The threat was low.  

Scanning the surroundings as I continued to move, it didn’t take long before a shop with oddly-styled walls caught my attention. Corners with protruding edges that could serve as a wonderful foothold for a rapid ascension. Quickly turning the corner of the shop and breaking line of sight with the adventurers, I briskly leapt and scaled the edge of the building in a matter of seconds only to flip myself over the ledge and onto the roof of the two-story flower shop with an ease afforded me by my ridiculous strength and agility.

Moving on without bothering to look back, my actions had drawn an unwanted amount of attention but it was a necessary evil as a message needed to be sent. The Harmonts thought they could push us around without any repercussions befalling them because they had the power to do so. To break a contract at will and to betray our trust… no, that was too much to let go. Even if my primary objective was to stop the Triumvirate from gaining a territory, even if I was grateful that victory was pulled out of a hat… that didn’t excuse this kind of behavior. I wasn’t going to sit back and let them walk over me.

Not now, not here in this world where I had the power to change my own destiny. The Call to Arms had shown me that much. If one wanted something, they only had to reach out and take it. I earned that gold. They only had to acquiesce… because one way or another I would find the way to complete my objectives. This was my time after all.

And I pulled the strings… right?