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2-2 Festive Streets

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Author: EnroItzal Original Source: Scribble Hub

The blazing sun was the last thing Erin wanted to see at the moment. She flinched from the light that beckoned the beginning of a day as soon as she left the shade of the inn’s roof. It didn’t feel like she was moving her body, it was more of dragging a heavy piece of meat around. Physically speaking, she had more than enough rest but every step she took, it felt much too sluggish. Her exhaustion was of the mind and in turn, it was gradually reflecting on her body. The magic lessons were truly difficult, as Nivia had warned. Erin took the warning to heart but she didn’t think the toll would be this significant. Even so, she had come this far and her pride would be dust if she gave up now.

Contrary to the listless Erin, the town was brimming with energy, basked in the festive mood that had started on the day after Erin’s departure from the town for the excursion. The merchants from the caravan had set up their stores throughout the town. The reason being that the plaza of the town was not vast enough to hold all of the merchants’ stores and the customers. Thus, the stores were scattered around the town. No matter which corner she turned, there was at least a single store to be sighted. There were even stores in the dark alleys with some of the much more unsavory merchandise. There was nothing illegal about those kinds but morally speaking, they were frowned upon.

However, Erin wasn’t in any position to bother with them nor did she have the enthusiasm to impart her moral views on these unsavory practices. Aside from those ethical issues, Erin’s other concerns was her having trouble navigating through the crowd that was filling every street in town. Had it not been for Nivia who was leading her by hand, Erin was sure she would have been carried away by the crowd like tidal waves.

Assorted kinds of products were being displayed. There were even potteries with intricate engravings for sale but the most often seen products were jewelries and liquors. While jewelries failed to attract her interest, the liquors however, were a sight for her sore eyes. A whiff was enough to send her mind into wonder. At a glance of these liquors’ bargain prices and the exotic-sounding names, it spurred a strange sense of desire within Erin to spend her hard-earned gold.

“What’s wrong, Erin?” Nivia asked with a hand clutching at her shoulder.

Before Erin herself knew it, her feet were already carrying her to the liquor stalls but Nivia had stopped her out of concern.

Horrified at her own impulse, Erin feigned ignorance and urged Nivia to hurry up.

“Who are we going to meet?” Erin asked as an attempt to change the subject of her odd behavior.

Nivia curled her lips. “You’ll see,” she answered. “And I’m sure you’ll be surprised.”

They were walking towards the plaza. Which could only mean they were going to meet with the top merchants of the caravan. A few faces came to mind and she shivered at a face she arrived upon.

“You look a bit pale, Erin,” Nivia asked. “Are you sure you’re alright?”

Nivia’s question didn’t register in Erin’s mind as she dreaded for the most plausible answer. Nivia told her she would be surprised and that could only mean the merchant they were going to meet would be eccentric or at least different from the other merchants. A dark-skinned scantily-clad woman with pointy ears and an alluring figure came into her mind.

“Is it perhaps Iris?” Erin slowly strung out her question.

Nivia’s turned wide. “You know her?”

Nivia’s response crushed all of Erin’s hopes. “Unfortunately, I do and I have met her,” Erin said with a fading voice.

The Elf frowned. “You didn’t do anything rude to her, right?”

Erin tried to laugh it off but Nivia’s frown deepened.

“What did you do?” the Elf asked.

“I sort of… appraise her…” Erin said with a trailing voice.

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“Appraise her? You mean you have the Appraisal skill?” Nivia widened her eyes further. After scouring her surroundings, she pulled Erin away from the crowd and into a nearby alley that was too narrow for any stall to be set up. “I’m sorry about this but don’t move,” she demanded as she grip Erin’s shoulder tightly.

Seeing her firm gaze, Erin obliged. She felt the flow of magic traveling from Nivia to her, and the Spirits surged in response to the spell Nivia was casting. Erin was about to appraise Nivia but—

“Erin.”

Nivia’s stern voice stopped Erin from using Appraisal.

“Y-your stats are simply… unprecedented… You’re even more incredible than I have thought.”

“Did you just appraise me?” Erin asked. She was confused. The last time she appraised Nivia, she didn’t see Appraisal listed as one of her skills.

“Yes, I appraised you but no it’s no Appraisal. It’s a similar spell under Spirit Magic but that’s not important right now.” Nivia took a deep breath. “Erin… Appraisal may not be an extremely rare skill but it’s neither common. Most people with Appraisal are scorned for just having it even if they didn’t abuse the skill.”

Erin didn’t need to ask why they were scorned indiscriminately. The reason was obvious.

“Erin, promise me this. This is for your sake. You are not to use Appraisal on anyone unless you are given consent or have an appropriate reason. It may not have been a problem in a small town like this but in the big cities, there are a lot of people who are able to tell if someone used Appraisal on them. If on some off chance you get caught using it on a scion or a noble, you can get trialed for this. Do you understand?”

Erin nodded fervently.

“Don’t use Appraisal,” Nivia repeated. “Unless the situation demands it.”

Erin nodded again. As she was taking Nivia’s words to heart, she noticed the Elf’s grip on her shoulder loosened but sensually caressing her shoulder. “Um… Nivia? Your… hand?”

“Ah—” Nivia uttered before quickly retracting her hand and backing away from Erin. “Anyways,” she faked a cough, “we should keep moving. Don’t want to make her wait.” She said and left the alley.

Erin followed closely behind her, still questioning Nivia’s strange action just seconds ago but her inquisitiveness was immediately replaced by a newfound worry. The plaza, their destination, was just right in front of them about a hundred yards away. And in the midst of the vast crowded space, stood a person she found the most loathsome ever since she arrived at the town. A man with the glossiest hair and a face that spelled wicked from every side, it was none other than Kane and a few of his supposed henchmen.

Judging from the way they were looking around and standing still in their place, Erin surmised they were hired as guards by the merchants. She had heard the rumors about Kane’s new position but she wasn’t one to believe in rumors and she took a pile of salt with that information. But the truth was now in plain view and his brand new set of shiny metal armor made the rumor even more evident.

“Ugh, how unsavory,” Nivia muttered when she took notice of the same sight.

“Adventurers as guards…” Erin mused. “I thought the merchants would have their own guards.”

“They do have their own guards but they are few,” Nivia answered. “It’s not easy to find a personal guard that is competent and trustworthy. If they are just for anyone to fill the numbers, might as well hire adventurers. Easier on the management side and lighter on the wages, or so they say.”

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Erin nodded in understanding. “Nevertheless, I’m surprised that Kane and his cohorts were trusted enough to be hired as guards.”

“No trust, my dear Erin,” Nivia said. “Only the promise of gold. These ruffians want gold and the merchants have them. Play by the merchants’ rules and they get them. Simple as that.”

“What if they ran away when they deemed the troubles aren’t worth it?”

“Depending on the severity of the outcome after an adventurer abandoned their responsibilities. I have heard the Guild might even put a bounty on deserters. Essentially, they will ruin their own life if they actually do that. I don’t think Kane is that much of a fool, do you?” Nivia asked as she eyed Erin a glance.

Erin shrugged. “I wouldn’t know,” she said. “I don’t know him too well but from the brief moments that we met, I say he has the potential for that kind of tomfoolery.”

Nivia tittered behind her hand. “Sometimes, I’m glad you’re different from the average Fae.”

“Huh?” Erin made a weird noise as she raised an eyebrow.

Nivia tittered more when she caught Erin’s surprise. “Don’t be so shocked, my dear. Even we, the Fae ourselves, are aware that we, at times, could appear to be too dignified or stern than we actually are.”

“So the Fae also bother themselves with the opinions of others’?”

“The contrary is a common yet understandable misconception. We have lived through many generations of humans’ time and we have seen all those untimely misfortune that befell on them. Those who remained solitary in their rule, they did not survive through these misfortunes for they have no allies to assist them in their time of need. We know that if we wish to live through for all the years to come, we cannot remain isolated. But of course, we choose our allies with scrutiny.”

Erin gave a cramped smile. She still couldn’t get used to this side of Nivia. Her duality was just like day and night. At one moment, she’s an obsessive stalker but at another moment, she’s your average wise Elf, as graceful as a lady and as knowledgeable as a scholar.

Nivia narrowed her eyes. “You’re thinking of something rude, aren’t you?”

Erin laughed nervously. “It’s just your imagination,” she hastily replied.

Fortunately, in a way, Nivia’s further questioning was cut short at the boorish intervention of Kane, whom they had inevitably approached in order to get to their destination.

“Haven’t seen you in a while, Vixen,” Kane spat. His henchmen followed his example and gave similar sneers.

Instead of a grimace, Erin grinned, intimidating some of his henchmen into retreating their steps. “I’m not sure if I should be impressed or exasperated by your boldness-c̲u̲m̲-stupidity.”

“What was that!?” Kane took a step nearer to Erin.

“You’re being rude to a Fae and what do you think would happen if the Fae you’re being rude to took offense?” Erin challenged.

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Kane snorted. “I’ll be praised by the strong for not bending my knees and presenting my rear to a Fae.”

Nivia’s face contorted heavily and was about to lunge but Erin held her back.

“I’ll have you know,” he continued. His hands closing in on his sword. “I have gained two levels since we last met. I’m stronger than before.”

“I see, you must be very proud of your accomplishments then,” Erin retorted. In response, Erin stayed her hands away from her swords and crossed them behind her back. “Take a swing,” she taunted.

Nivia stared wide-eyed at Erin but she decided to trust her since she had taken a glance at her stats a while ago.

Kane frowned in confusion. “W-what? Have you gone mad, you mutt!? You think I won’t swing aty you just because you’re a Fae?”

By now, eyes were gathering around them and most of these eyes were from the merchants. Kane’s henchmen had already retreated away from Kane himself. They weren’t foolish enough to commit any atrocity in the eyes of so many witnesses but Kane himself was blinded by his ego.

“If your tool has shrunk, then allow me to give you a reassurance,” Erin further jibed. “I swear on my name as a Fae that I promise I won’t draw my sword if you swung at me. So, come on. Take a swing. Or do you doubt your sword could even leave a small cut on my skin?”

Kane stuttered. Never had he been insulted to this degree. He had always chosen his victims wisely but that was until he met Erin.

“What’s this? No action?” Erin sighed with a dramatic display. “I guess in the end, your two levels of increment have only strengthened your ego, not your abilities.”

“You b̲i̲t̲c̲h̲!” Kane shouted, his gripping the hilt of his sword.

The audience gasped at Kane’s flaring anger.

“Oh my, what do we have here?” The aloof and sultry voice silenced the gallery.

“““Lady Iris!””” Kane’s henchmen immediately took steps back and gave a slight bow to the Umbrum that made herself known. Even Kane immediately turned around and greeted Iris with one knee on the ground.

Only Erin and Nivia stood straight in Iris’ presence.

“Lady Nivia, I’m so glad you responded to my letter,” Iris smiled at the Elf. Her gaze then turned to Erin. “Oh? You’re here too but I guess that’s to be expected. Both of you are the only Fae in town.”

“Lady Iris,” Nivia greeted with a nod. “Pleasure to finally be of acquaintance with you. I’m surprised at your… temporary security detail? Is that what they are?”

“Unfortunately so,” her words were followed by a sigh. Kane directed a glance of betrayal at her small theatrics but she ignored it.

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“You couldn’t afford better?” Nivia asked. Her words were filled with undertone but her face remained stern.

Iris laughed. “Of course I can but—” she eyed Erin, “—the better ones were unavailable at the time. So I’m stuck with this.”

Erin’s caution against Iris was overshadowed by the pity she suddenly felt for Kane. As she had expected, Iris did have a nasty personality.

And to emphasize her nastiness further— “I’ll skip the pleasantries. Lady Nivia and Lady Erin, be my personal guards until we reach the next town over.”

Surprised Erin may be, she did not miss the brief glimpse and smug Iris directed at Kane. Before Nivia could express her shock, Kane was the first to speak up.

“What’s the meaning of this!?” He rose from his knees.

“Oh? You don’t know?” Iris scoffed. “You are relieved and dismissed, Mister Kane.”

Kane stood in shock as his fist and legs trembled in anger. “This is a request from the Guild. You can’t dismiss me without any well-grounded reasons.”

Iris scoffed. “You are unexpectedly naive, Mister Kane. Do you think I do not know of the various misdeeds you committed away from my eyes?”

Kane pointed. “You have no proof.”

Iris looked around, and she scoffed again. “I can pick anyone from the crowd and they’ll attest.”

“Y-you can’t let me go. You need my strength.”

Iris laughed. “You see nothing but your pride in front of you.”

“B-but you said—”

“I have indeed acknowledged your strength, Mister Kane, but I have never acknowledged you to be the sole option.”

“You told me I was irreplaceable.”

“Nonsense, you foolish brute. You asked me if you were irreplaceable but if you have actually listened to my answer instead of basking in your own delusions, you would know that I have neither affirmed nor denied your question,” Iris said with a complacent smile.

“Y-you vile merchants… I should have known better.” Kane twisted his expression. “Is this how you conduct businesses? I’m disappointed, Umbrum.”

“Vile and disappointing, how ironic, Mister Kane.” Iris chuckled. “I have heard everything about you from the Guild and the locals. They told me everything and I’m sure my fellow peers are told the same thing. You of all people have the least liberty to label another person as vile and disappointing.”

As the situation escalated at a rapid pace, Erin and Nivia were looking at each other in the eyes, questioning each other of their next course of action. More than that, Erin had a strange inkling of finding Iris’ personality familiar to someone she knew but she couldn’t quite put a finger on it.

“Impudent b̲i̲t̲c̲h̲…” Kane was gritting his teeth and his grip trembling around the hilt of his sword. “You took me for a compliant fool, do you?”

His henchmen were long gone before anyone knew. They didn’t think arguing with Iris was worth their livelihood but Kane being the egotistical person he was, there was no way he would just back down.

“You did jump at the first mention of gold so… yes. I consider you a compliant fool,” Iris answered with a widening smile.

And that was the last straw. Kane bellowed and brandished his sword at Iris.

Everyone gasped except for Erin and Nivia.

“You’re right. He really does have the potential,” Nivia whispered quietly to Erin.

Erin simply rolled her eyes at Nivia’s petty snark.

Kane raised his sword, prepared to strike down on Iris but the Umbrum herself waved for her guards to stay at their position. And Kane swung down with a cry of indignance.

—but his blade stopped short of touching even a strand of Iris’ dark purplish hair.

“W-what…!?” Perplexity rained on Kane’s expression.

“Space magic… Impressive,” Nivia remarked. “And I thought Umbrums have terrible affinity with space-type magic.”

Erin widened her eyes as realization dawned. She wanted to appraise the spell used but she couldn’t and she didn’t need to. She recognized that feeling of that particular surge of magic as the spell was cast.

“Erin?” Nivia shook her slightly when she noticed the Fox-kin’s blank expression. “What’s wrong?”

“It’s not Iris. She didn’t cast that spell.”

“Then who did?”

Before Erin could answer—

“And they tell me to watch my tongue,” came a voice from behind Iris. The owner of the voice was a boy, nay, a man of short stature with dark red hair. His trousers and tunic were obviously put on without much consideration to his own appearance. There were red marks all over his neck and exposed shoulder. His disheveled hair further enhanced the notion of his nightly activity.

Erin frowned at the sight of such an appearance. She even found herself blinking repeatedly.

“Oh my, how fortuitous. You’re finally awake,” Iris beamed at the Dwarrow’s presence. “It’s brunch now. You slept long.”

“Thanks to your zeal in these past few nights,” he said with a groan as he stretched his neck.

Erin had been so focused on Iris and Kane that she failed to register the familiar scent lingering around the Umbrum herself and now, she was gifted with a big surprise.

“Aedan?” Nivia uttered his name before Erin could.

Aedan nodded lazily. “Oh, good morning,” he greeted wearily.


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