Nothing We Can’t Work Through

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What an eventful afternoon that turned out to be...

If I'd known ahead of time what getting out of bed would've led to, I probably would've followed Sam's wishes and spent another day lounging about with her.

We stood around, loitering outside of the Mayor's office for a few minutes before pulling ourselves back together. Neither of us is ready to deal with the ramifications of what just happened, but we get to a place where we feel up to at least accomplishing the other errands we set out to do in the first place.

Sam and I visit the Dewhurst Market for the first time together as a couple, and she's shocked by all the seedy things merchants are openly selling out in every shoddy stall. Illicit goods, questionable curios, and knock-off products can be found as far as the eye can see.

Sam comes from Imperalis, the capital of Karnalle itself, so it's no surprise for her to be feeling culture shock. She's used to the Grand Bazaar, where designer stores litter the streets and where merchants from all over the Realm and beyond come to do business. I can't imagine that our humble little collection of suspicious goods lives up to the second biggest market in Karnalle. 

Neither of us is in the mood for window shopping, so we limit our time in the cobblestone-paved gathering of questionable merchants to what we came here for and nothing else. We pick up light groceries as well as some lube, which is just as awkward as I feared it would be. At least Sam isn't in the mood to publicly tease me over it. Finished with our task, we leave just as quickly as we came.

We're mostly silent on our way back, leaving plenty of time to mull over the actions I took. I'm not sure what came over me, but it felt terrific to rough Abner up a little for all the crap he's put me through. Not once did that old bastard ever try to support the Guild after my grandfather's death, so I found it cathartic to take some of my many years of frustration out on him.

Sure, I just rough-housed a decrepit senior citizen. But that doesn't mean I can't be proud of it.

We get back home to the Guild, both of us relieved to breathe in the musty yet comforting aroma of home. Sam and I agree to have a little talk after I've gotten the groceries squared away. I also take the time to prepare myself and my new love some coffee, although I'm not sure if she likes it as much as I do. For whatever reason, thinking about how there's so much to learn about this girl who turned my life upside down fills my heart with a warm and fuzzy feeling I'm tempted to call joy.

But then I remember how she almost killed Abner, and that feeling becomes a little bit more complicated.

Together, we settle down at a table in the entrance hall, sitting on opposite sides. Sam has a frustrated expression on her face, making her look deeper in thought than I'm used to. I slide over a cup of coffee to her with a relaxed but cautious smile, and she sips it gratefully. She winces at the taste, not appreciating the bitter black, unlike myself.

"So-" Sam and I both speak up at the same time.

This little awkward moment makes us share a small laugh. The brief brevity lowers the tension a bit, helping us move on to the heart of the conversation.

"Do you wanna talk first?" She asks, smiling and averting her eyes.

"There's not much to say that I haven't already. Unless, of course, you're asking about how my grandfather died, which is a different story." She nods her head, and with a sigh, I tell her the truth, as upsetting as it is for me. "He was in his nineties. We were arguing about the career path he wanted me to have, and there was a lot of yelling and screaming from both of us. As he got madder and madder, his heart gave out... and that was that."

"What the hell?" Sam does a double-take and tilts her head. "People around here blamed you for killing him over a crappy ass reason like that?"

"It doesn't help that people think my eyes are cursed, either. There is a lot of superstitious peasant folk around these parts. I wasn't popular even before it happened."

"So... lemme get this straight." Sam slumps over the table as she cups her chin. Narrowing her eyes, the runaway Princess asks, "Your grandpa wanted you to become a Guild Master, and you ended up becoming one out of guilt?"

I laugh and look down into the darkness of my steaming hot drink. My reflection is right there on the surface of the bitter liquid, staring right back at me. Even he finds the comment ironic. "The opposite. He wanted me to be an adventurer, but I wanted to follow in his footsteps..."

She blinks. "You mean... you wanted to be a Guild Master? Man, you must have been such a total nerd...!" Sam laughs uncomfortably as she tries picturing my past self. Then, realizing she's acting like a bit of a rude hoe, corrects herself. "It's not that it's funny, I mean... I just..."

"It's alright, Sam," I give the young adventurer my most reassuring smile. "Not everyone dreams about waving a sword around, and slaying monsters left and right. Some of us prefer being the one who runs the show from the background, the one everyone counts on behind the scenes and who ensures everyone else can do their best." 

"That makes sense, kinda. For what it's worth, I think you made the right call." She smirks while scratching the back of her head and blushing. "You got a nice build and all, but I can't see you as an adventurer... like, not at all, dude."

"Thank you. Despite my self-imposed isolation, I do work out from time to time. I've always been naturally muscular for whatever reason, though." I shrug off the compliment while ignoring the unintentional insult.

"What happened to you after your grandpa died? How the heck did you end up running this place after that?" Sam leans in. Her green eyes flicker with sympathy, and I can't deny her when she asks like that. Although her question is blunt to the point of being tactless, I know she means well, so I don't get upset over it.

"I was raised by a family friend who stopped by a few times a week to look after me. As for the Guild, that's a complicated story..." I explain to Her Highness the weirdness of the Dewhurst Adventurer's Guild. How I own the land, how it's technically a part of the Association of Adventurers yet not beholden to its rules, and the weird circumstances that led to me inheriting it all.

Most of it flies over her head, but the important thing is that she's trying to follow along. Sam ends up picking up the most important parts, at least.

"Geez..." She says, stunned as she tries putting the pieces together in her mind.

I shrug, having nothing to say.

"No crap you lost all your adventurers. I mean, no matter how hard you studied, you were just a damn kid...!" There's anger in her eyes just as much as there is love. For a moment, Sam looks to be on the verge of another episode similar to what just happened back at the Mayor's. Right as I begin to panic, she quells my concerns and regains control. Sam becomes aware of her looming rage and bites it back.

Then, realization dawns on her. Sam blushes as she grows ashamed of herself. "Shit... just the other day I was... oh, Gods, I was telling you to man the hell up and saying it was all your fault the Guild failed!"

I guess with that context in mind, all of her advice does indeed sound very cruel. I'm not bothered by it. I needed to hear someone say what she said to my face for me to take action into my own hands. The best medicine is always a bitter pill to swallow, or so they say.

"Sam, you don't need to-"

"I'm so sorry, Boss...!" The beautiful Princess's face is stained by tiny tears and an upsetting expression showing just how deeply she cares. I can't be mad at her. Especially not when she's looking at with a face like that.

"You're fine. It's not like you could've known. Besides, you aren't wrong. I failed because I stopped trying. Thanks to you, that's no longer the case. I'm going to succeed, and I'm going to succeed because I'll be putting in more work than ever before."

Sam grumbles, then pulls at her twintails with frustration. "That's cool and all, but I still feel like crap for saying all that junk. I'm such a stupid, stupid little dumbass..."

"Forget it. More importantly, do you think I went a little too far back there?" I change the topic hoping to show that I really don't care about how harsh her motivational speech was.

It works. There's a twinkle in the girl's eyes as she thinks back to how I almost beat up an elderly politician. "Nah, it was the coolest thing I've ever seen. Hell, I'm almost wet just thinking about the sheer manliness it took to pull that off, Boss!"

Her sarcasm is duly noted, and I roll my eyes. "I'll have to work beating up old men into our foreplay more often, then."

"I'm only half-joking... sometimes, a girl just can't help herself, y'know?" Sam shrugs, looking away. "Point is, you were awesome. You handled it a lot better than I did... which, uh... we probably need to talk about, don't we...?" The runaway Princess sighs before turning to me with exaggerated puppy-dog eyes. She doesn't want to have this discussion, but she knows we need to.

I nod my head and sip from my coffee to give her a moment to reflect. Eventually, I ask, "Do you get like that often?"

"...Nah, not a lot. I get mad every now and then but never like... thatTHAT mad." Slumping over the table and brushing some hair out of her face, Sam does all that she can to avoid my gaze.

"But it has happened before, you're saying."

"Yeah," A twitch of her eyes. A pang of sadness and regret. "Once or twice, maybe. I dunno."

"Were you actually going to attack him, Sam?"

"N-No!" Sam jolts up at the suggestion, slamming her fist into the table. Thankfully, her strength is reigned in, and she manages to avoid inflicting any property damage for once. Will wonders never cease? "I mean... I don't think so? Look, I just couldn't stand who he was treating you! Everything got fuzzy the more he spoke, and I wanted to hurt him for all the stupid shit coming out of his mouth. Even now, I... agh..."

For the first time since I've met her, Sam has an aura of vulnerability around her. She's always strong, confident, and in charge of herself, so seeing her like this is a good reminder that there's a significant age gap between us. I'm not a good role model by any stretch, but if I can help Sam to better herself in any way, I won't hesitate to be there for her when she gets like this. Knowing her extensive daddy issues, she'll probably even lean into it when I need to help her.

"Sam," I reach across the table, putting my hand on hers as I look her in the eyes. "I'm not mad at you. Whatever happened back there isn't going to stop the way I feel about you."

She raises her head, frowning, but forces herself to make eye contact. "You promise?"

"Yes, I promise. This is just something we'll have to work through together. As a team."

The troubled girl considers this in silence until a little smile appears on her face. She nods and corrects her posture, having herself another drink of coffee. "Thanks, Boss. I mean it, though... I'm... I'm not the kind of person who'd just attack someone like that. I mean it. If Abner wasn't talking shit to you, then... I wouldn't have thought about attacking him. It was an impulse, or maybe a reflex. Is there a difference between those?"

"An impulse is something you feel but don't immediately act on. A reflex is an action you perform unconsciously, often to protect yourself or others."

"Then it was an impulse," She holds her cheek up by her fist, sighing. "But I was pretty close to it being a reflex..."

"I'm not going to talk down to you and explain why it would've been a terrible thing to attack an old man with your sword, Sam. I just want to make this clear; I don't need a teenage girl to fight all my battles. Especially if your solution is this direct."

Her fear rises, and it shows on her face. "You don't get it. I haven't felt like this in ages! It's... Gods, it's only ‘cause it was you he was treating like crap! We got, like, some kinda weird bond between us now and... ugh. We're going in circles, aren't we?"

"Circles areis fine, as long as we're going somewhere."

She smirks and looks down into her coffee. "Heh, I like that..." After a while, she gives me a look of disappointment. "You sure you're not gonna tell me to behave myself... or that I need to act my age... or all that other adult crap?"

"Given the fact that you're a runaway, something tells me you received plenty of that sort of attention already. You don't need it from me."

"...Thanks," A mysterious blush colors Sam's face, her eyes suddenly avoiding my own. "I... don't think anyone has ever treated me like this before, y'know?"

"What, like an adult?"

"Naw," She shakes her head. "Like my own person. It's kinda nice having someone willing to let me fuck up and not hold me to these stupidly high standards of, you know?"

"Not to ruin the moment, but I think asking you not to attack old men with your giant sword is far from a stupidly high standard."

Sam is taken aback by the comment and then laughs. Her emerald eyes flit away, nervous. "Yeah, totally. Not gonna happen again."

"And if it does?"

"Well, uh... then you'll just have to help me again. Simple enough, right?"

"Hm," I cup my chin in my hand, then lower my glasses with the other. I jokingly look her up and down, purposefully lingering on her exposed cleavage. "I suppose. You're lucky you're cute."

"Fuck off, Boss." She giggles, warmth returning to her smile.

It's far from perfect, but we reached an understanding. Sometimes, Sam gets angry. Downright furious, evenReally angry. I feel like there's something I'm forgetting here when it comes to her family that might explain this. It’s just that my brain’s been thrown for a loop from everything that’s happened these past few days. What matters is that I can't magically make her anger problem any better, but I can at least provide support for her when she needs it.

As previously mentioned, I'm an expert at reading body language, especially with people like Sam, who are is honest to a fault and can't lie to save their ass. Sam was sincere about every word. When she said this rarely happens, I believed her. When she promised me that she only felt this angry because I was verbally abused. She isn't the kind of person who would just attack someone over nothing.

Clearly, something else is at work here.

As much as I'd feel awkward about it, I almost want to bring the young adventurer to Miss Hart and see if she knows anything that might help. She's not a mental health doctor by any means, but it couldn't hurt. Of course, that would require a great deal of explaining on my part as to who this girl is, and I'm frankly terrified of how Opalina would react if I just showed up again after so long.

Soon. I can't avoid her forever, but not today.

For now, I think Sam would jump atdo good with an excuse to take out her stress on the field. "We shouldn't stew over this little setback all day. Feel like getting some work done? There are plenty of monsters around just waiting for a bronze-ranked adventurer such as yourself to mow them down with a sword."

It takes her a minute, but the rough and tumble Princess stands up, cracks her knuckles, and finishes her coffee in one gulp. With a big old grin on her face, she says, "Whatcha got in mind for me, Boss?" and -- without a thought -- slams the coffee cup down onto the table for dramatic emphasis, promptly smashing breaking the ceramic mug with her absurd strength by complete accident.

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Rise of the Guild Master