Taking Care of Business

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I’ve never been one to enjoy a nice walk, myself. Chalk it up to the entire town hating me since my youth, making any potentially pleasant stroll into a sordid affair filled with many deathly glares from the downright hostile denizens of Dewhurst. Today, though? Today it feels nice breathing in the sickly air. It’s calming and familiar.

There’s just two more things I need to wrap up before I can head home and finally start the monumental task of digesting the events of this long, long day. I want it out of the way, as the Guild gets bigger in size and operations I need to get used to stressful days like this without breaking into pieces. 

So without any further deliberation I head back to Each and Every Meats.

I casually enter and filter out all the unpleasantness that assails my senses. The buzzing flies, the stink, the foreboding realization that the man behind the counter has ended many a life here, none of that matters right now.

Butcher Bludman makes no change to his unpleasant face as I approach the front desk. I didn’t come here for small talk after all, but I can’t help raising an eyebrow. “Bludman, have you even moved from this counter since we left?”

“I have not.” Bludman blinks one eye, and then the other. He’s still completely naked except for the apron, because why wouldn’t he be?

I sigh. “Whatever. I’m here to renegotiate the deal, as I feel with our current agreement that I would not be making a fair trade even after you factor in the cost of the pork and the rental fee for the traps.”

His cold eyes twitch in surprise, then narrow in anger. I was afraid that this would happen. Not afraid of the Butcher, no, but afraid he would make this far more difficult than it had to be. “We shook on it. You said the wolves would be mine to do with as I please.”

“And they will be,” I confirm, leaning over the counter to stare unflinchingly back. “For a price.”

His anger starts to boil over and he pulls out a bloody cleaver from inside the apron. I’m supposed to feel threatened here, but all I feel is amazement knowing that he stored this thing directly in front of his dick. Gods, the stupidity of this fucking town and its inhabitants.

Bludman raises the cleaver into the air and with all the brute force his impressively muscled arm can muster he slams it into the wooden counter. The power behind this swing is so hard it splinters from the impact and all but chops off a good chunk of it. “WE SHOOK ON IT. THAT MEAN NOTHING TO YOU, ASSHOLE?”

I’m not going to take this.

I slam my fists on the table to mimic his gesture and glare defiantly back at him, gritting my teeth for him to see. “Will you listen for a damn minute and let me explain?!”

As quickly as it comes, the anger on Bludman’s face fizzles away. “Out with it, then.” He raises an eyebrow, impressed that I didn’t care about his more than blatant threat.

I explain the results of our little wolf hunt, how there were well over twenty of the damn things and finally how a last boss of sorts appeared, and how it’s easily as big as a large shed. His cold, dead eyes light up with interest at the thought of such a gigantic pile of meat to play with, or sell, or whatever this creepy fuck actually does with his wares. I’m not inclined to ask.

“Alright, fine.” The butcher grumbles. “That does kinda change things. How much do you want for ‘em?” He squints his eyes and crosses his arms sterly.

“50,000G. Plus an additional 10,000G for delivery. You’re strong but I highly doubt you could lug that gigantic wolf corpse all the way through town without cutting it all up first, and I know how badly you like to play with your product. Still, even aside from the big bad wolf we’ve got over twenty normal wolves that need to be transported to your store. It would take you days to bring them back and they’d be rotten by then, Sam would be able to do it in a few hours.” Bludman’s annoyance flares up at first after hearing my price, but the more he follows along to my logic the more he acquiesces and starts understanding.

“You think I’m made of money, do ya?” He wants to sound apprehensive in an attempt of bartering a better deal, but I know well enough that my offer is too good for him to pass on.

“I think you WILL be if you make the smart decision here, Bludman.” I lay on just enough of the smooth talk to push him off the cliff and he sighs a long, tired sigh.

The butcher thinks long and hard, making the painful silence in the eerie shop all the more evident. “I’ll throw in an extra 5,000G if you let me start hunting the catboy again.” 

“Tempting, Bludman, tempting... but no dice.” He really wants to catch that kitty by the tail, doesn’t he...?

He hangs his head in shame, knowing that at least it was worth a try. Bludman begins to raise his hand for me to shake once more, but takes it back. “You gonna honor the deal this time?” 

I let a bit of my anger slip and I lean even more over the counter, eyes flashing with subdued fury. “You’re getting a better deal than I am and you know it. You either agree, or I pay you for the pork and the traps and burn the wolves. Your call.”

Immediately his hand shoots back out in desperate agreement. “Alright. I’ll have your money for you as soon as the girl brings the last one here.”

I smile and return to a more gentlemanly persona, standing up and tightening the strings of my collar like a polished professional. “Good. Before I go, Bludman. Food for thought.” As I start walking away from the counter and towards the door, I take a single glance backwards and grin. “Just in case you get any funny ideas, remember that the girl is more than strong enough to ensure the transaction is made. Don’t try any funny business, her sword is a lot heavier and sharper than anything you’ve got in here.”

Before I go, he mumbles something under his breath about how I had better be careful playing ‘games like these in a town like this’.

With all this nonsense regarding the bloodied butcher out of the way, I exit into the mean streets of Dewhurst once more.

Perhaps Bludman was right and I had indeed been too cocky, but when you’ve lived your life meekly and suddenly find within you the power to begin stepping on people that treated you like dirt to get what you want, it’s hard to resist acting on that newfound thrill.

The butcher is right too, of course. I’ll need to be careful about my actions in Dewhurst going forward... even though it’s hard not to feel invincible with a pair of powerful, if unrefined girls by my side. Sam has absurd power within but shouldn’t ever use it, leaving her just an untrained Great Blader with much stronger than average base strength. While on the other hand, Zutiria is in her own words ‘the strongest Black Mage in Karnalle’ and it’s true that I can’t verify that, given what I’ve seen I don’t have much reason to doubt her. It’s just that whatever happened to her so long ago did irreparable damage to her psychological state which apparently led to physical damage as well.

Both girls are fountains of power with severe asterisks attached. While I love both girls dearly, I’m hoping any new adventurers the guild picks up will have more normal skill sets... I digress.

I have no idea where Spliffert might be this late in the afternoon so I figured I’d see if he had returned home before I wasted time checking anywhere else. I’d prefer to avoid poking my nose in the types of dives I assume a man like him would typically visit.

Thankfully when I start to approach the steezweed farm, I can see him off in the distance from a good ways away. These eyes of mine do have a lot of perks, I suppose the easiest analogue here would be seeing through the eyes of a hawk? Knowing for sure he’s here from so far away saves me a lot of time.

When I finally arrive at the wartorn field, I’m surprised to find Spliffert looking like an entirely different man than when I first met him earlier this morning. He’s sober, for one, and he’s terrified. He stands against the fence looking into his wolf corpse riddled field, hands shaking. When he finally notices my presence he looks to me with desperation, but surprisingly not anger.

“Shit.” He laughs. “Hey, man.”

I wasn’t expecting this. I thought for sure he would be livid, but this passive chillness is worrisome.

“Hey. The job is done.” I extend my arm and point to the field.

“Thanks, I noticed. You smoke?” He offers me a small cigarette and much to my surprise it’s entirely legal, just normal halfling’s leaf imported from Merryburrow. Nothing shady about it. Hell, it’s not even cheap tobacco either. Expensive, by the looks of it.

“No, I’m good.” My only vices are erotic fiction and drinking when I’m sad, thank you very much, neither of which I’ve had too much use for as of late.

He nods and takes the cig for himself, lighting it and filling the air with a somber cloud of forlorn tobacco haze as soon as he takes his first drag. “I can’t stay here anymore, man.” Spliffert says, staring into the middle distance. He blows lovely little rings of smoke one after the other, watching them float away.

“Is this about the money for the quest?” I ask. I lean my elbows over the railing of the fenced in field, joining him in looking off to the horizon.

“Nah. I got enough. Even in factoring whatever shit you think is necessary for... whatever the fuck that huge thing is.”

I turn to him and ask sincerely, not using any of my threatening tricks, but just asking. “How many wolves did you actually think there would be?”

“I dunno. Ten, at most.”

Sighing, I look away. “You lied to me.”

“Yeah. I was high.” He laughs and takes another drag of his halfling pleasure. “And scared shitless.”

“One of my girls barely made it out alive.” 

Spliffert turns to face me, surprising me by showing genuine concern. “Shit. I’m... I’m so...”

“She’s fine, she’s with a healer I know. But whether or not I can forgive you for this depends on one thing. Were you aware of the adult one? The big one, I mean.”

He shakes his head dismissively. He’s not lying.

“My earnings ain’t been shit these last few years. Got a lot of debt racked up by now, and Dewhurst... it’s not a nice city to live in under those kinds of circumstances, ya feel me?”

I’m starting to get a little on edge, I’m not used to spontaneous heart to hearts with drug farmers. “Why are you telling me this? I don’t care about your circumstances. You submitted a formal quest to the Guild, signed the paperwork and are obligated to pay. And under Guild discretion I’m able to use my powers as Guild Master to re-negotiate a quest’s classification if the situation was not as described. This was registered as a higher end Bronze ranked quest, where in reality very easily should have been a high Silver... dare I say even a low Gold.”

“How much?” Are the only words he can say.

“100,000G. I understand your financial situation is rough and I’m willing to negotiate a payment-”

“Sell the field. Should be enough, it’s ready for harvest anyways. You guys have been harvesting wild steezweed and shit and selling it in town, yeah? It’s easily worth that much. Just please...” He looks to me with that same, miserable look of desperation and I feel as if I’ve just been punched in the gut. “Let me keep my coins so I can split and find somewhere far away to live.”

This isn’t right. Not at all. “What kind of trouble are you actually in?”

“I wasn’t lying, lack of earnings put me in real hot water over here. The people above... nah, maybe I should say the people below me aren’t happy with my output and quality. There's a bit more than 100,000G’s worth in the field though, for sure. It’s just no point in me sticking around only to find out what they’re gonna do to me after the harvest is up.”

I squint my eyes deeply in thought and look away. “If I sell your field as payment for our services then your superiors aren’t going to be very happy with me. You would be putting me in a very, very dangerous position.”

Ashamed, Spliffert looks away. “Yeah.”

“Especially after you lied to me.”

“Yeah...”

There’s a silence between us as we sink into the depths of our own thoughts. The choice is obvious, and it sucks so bad that just thinking about it makes me sigh.

“Get out of town by tonight.” I say.

Spliffert is taken aback by my words and struggles internally while putting out his cigarette. “You’re... you’re really sure about it, dude?!”

Dejectedly, I nod my head in confirmation.

“Even after I tried to fuck you over and... fuck, man...!” He sobs ever so softly as I leave the railing and point my finger at him.

“You don’t need to get emotional over this. I’m only doing my job.”

“I thought you already did, man, this is somethin’ else entirely...” He laughs and shyly looks away.

“The job of a Guild is to help those in need, and I take my job very seriously.” I smile, crossing my arms. It’s kind of embarrassing to say in all honesty, but I can’t help myself. “As long as there’s enough to cover the payment then I won’t complain. So go on, get going.”

Spliffert nods his head and starts running into his house, but before he disappears he looks back to me as I turn to walk home. “You’re a pretty good guy, you know that?”

I laugh and shake my head from side to side. “I wish I could say the same. Wherever you end up next time, don’t make the same mistakes.” 

The humble drug farmer makes a determined expression and clenches his fists with focus. No more words are said because none are needed, and I begin the walk back to the Guild with a small bit of optimism for whatever Spliffert does with his life after this.

Do I actually think he can change? Well... does it really matter what I think? I changed, so it only stands to reason that others must be able to do the same even if I’ve never personally witnessed such a thing in this accursed town.

It may be rather naive of me to believe, but I truly think he’ll be fine so long as he doesn’t stop trying.

Gods, this tiring slog of a day made me get all sappy and sentimental... This isn’t like me at all. I really need that nap, and soon. At a brisk pace I do my best to hurry through Dewhurst’s dirty streets. With practiced expertise I avoid stabbings, insistent crystal dealers, cheap prostitutes and even a mugging attempt which I was thankfully able to thwart by glaring at him without my glasses. I’d take temporary pain in my eyes for a moment compared to a knifing any day, thank you very much.

It’s around four in the afternoon when I return at last to my comfy, shithole of a Guild. If I know Opalina she’ll be keeping the girls there for a few more hours yet, and sure enough the place is empty when I arrive. I stretch myself out thoroughly and go into the office to take up a pen and parchment, scrawling out a notice for Sam in the off chance I’m not awake when she comes back. I tell her about the deal with the butcher and promise to reward her if she can manage to get it done today, as well as mentioning where I buried their weapons for safe keeping.

I’m not keen on pushing Sam so hard after having her patched up earlier this same day, but it’s important that we transport the wolves before they start to spoil. If we leave them out for too long, Bludman will definitely use this as grounds to pay less, and I won’t be having that.

I leave the note folded up visibly on top of the table we typically eat our meals at, and to make it more obvious I write “Your Highness” on the front with nice, large letters to get a good jab in at her expense. With all that out of the way, I make my way to our bedroom and undress myself lazily down to only my boxers below. This has been a long day, and there’s no need for me to care for decency anymore. I don’t want to wear pajamas- I just want to be mostly naked and sleep this off.

I’m sure I won’t be out for the night since it’s only four something or other, but a rest is loooooooong overdue.

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Rise of the Guild Master