Sam got in a little over her head, but her work on slaying the remaining slimes goes smooth as silk. Smoother than I thought it would. Guess she was right. Maybe I'm not too bad at helping her out like this? The warrior Princess still needs me here to give feedback and correct her mistakes, but generally, I'd say she doesn’t give me too much to worry about.
After an hour passes, Sam has already defeated the five slimes we agreed upon.
While five Slimes is absolutely nothing to be proud of, it’s still better than coming home empty-handed. Besides, as far as I’m concerned, just knowing this young adventurer who burst in through my doors isn’t a lost cause is worth celebrating the night away in my book. If anything, I feel like I've walked away from this little quest having gained a much greater respect for Sam.
Overall, she didn't do too bad at all for her first day on the job.
Basic Slimes like these go for 60G, minus the twenty percent for the Association and another twenty for my cut, and Sam made herself 180G today. That might not seem like a lot, but it also isn't chump change, either. As for my upcoming payday, why, the sky's the limit once I get my hands on that 60G...
The mood on the return trip is pleasant and jovial.
As we go on our merry way, Sam makes a joke about whether or not I'm going to hold her hand again. She looks a bit disappointed when I decline the offer. I wouldn't mind, personally, but that's the problem. It was inappropriate of me to grab her like that before, and I definitely shouldn't encourage myself to touch her again.
Once Sam gets over the lack of handholding, though, she gets straight to chattering about everything and anything. She drones on about how awesome she was, how awesome I was, how awesome we were together, all while making sure to sprinkle a few more ‘Daddy’ mentions here and there to put me on edge. I really wish she wouldn't. I'm still not sure how I feel about it when Sam calls me that, but...
No, I don't think that's quite right. I know damn well how I feel about it. I'm just upset at myself because I don't like the answer.
I begged the powers that be for another chance to become the sort of Guild Master I always wanted to be, but I didn't know my chance would come bundled alongside the most challenging test of self-restraint in all the Realms. I try my best to ignore and dismiss Sam's teasing because other than that, the mood between us is fantastic. It’s been longer than I can remember since I’ve enjoyed someone else’s company, let alone someone as bright, cheery, and fired up as Sam is.
Despite how problematic this girl can be, I have to admit that someone like her might be a good influence on me.
There are still so many things I don’t know about Sam, sure. I have no idea why I’m able to look at her painlessly without my glasses, and I haven’t the faintest clue why she left a pampered life in Imperalis to take up the life of a lowly adventurer. For the time being, though, it doesn’t look like she will be leaving any time soon.
I think I can live with that.
Sam and I soon reach the Guild, and I notice something abruptly before we head in. I didn't even pay a single mind to the nasty townspeople while we were walking through the streets of Dewhurst- I was enjoying Sam's company that much. Knowing that being with her is such a lovely distraction almost brings a blush to my face, but I manage to shrug it off before the girl notices anything wrong.
For some reason, home feels a little less dreary than when we left it. Perhaps the satisfaction of a job well done makes the sight of home that much more comforting.
“Come on up to the desk, Sam. Or whatever’s left of it, anyway.”
“Er, yeah, sure thing!” The young warrior takes her sword out of her sling and looks around for a place to put it.
“There are several storage rooms in the east wing,” I tell her as I bend down to rifle through the wreckage of the recently destroyed counter.
“Sweet, thanks!” Sam drops it off and runs back to see me pulling out a little satchel with the Association of Adventurer’s Logo on it.
“Slime cores, please? I’ll need to mail them to the association for reimbursement.”
“Oh, ok... is that how this works?” Sam tilts her head, confused. She hands me her bag of kill trophies, and I take it gratefully.
"Yes. When submitting generic kill quests like these, you give me your trophies, and then I pay you for your services out of my own pocket. Later tonight, I'll process your kills with paperwork and send them to the Association. When they receive my documentation and your trophies, the Association will reimburse me and pay my handler's fee. Meanwhile, the Association will then take my paperwork and your trophies to submit your kills to the Duke of Arrark, who will reimburse the Association the money they reimbursed me for having to-"
"Stop, stop, stop!" Sam groans loudly, pulling on her twintails. "I have no clue what any of this means, Boss! Can you sum it up a little better or something?"
"The gist of it is I pay you, they pay me back for paying you, and the Duke pays them back for paying me to pay you."
"This is fucking stupid." She slumps her shoulders, utterly defeated.
"No, Sam. This is bureaucracy."
"Bureaucracy can go choke on a fat one," Sam grumbles.
“Indeed. Give me just a moment, and I'll go get you what you're owed.”
Just as I turn around, Sam surprises me by reaching out. She pulls my hand back toward her, stopping me from leaving. When I turn around, I see her staring straight into my eyes with a resolute and focused expression.
“You don’t gotta do that, Boss.” Her eyes are determined to stop me, and I'm afraid I don't understand why.
"Sam? I'm afraid I don't follow what you're getting at."
“I kinda already owe you for the desk... and the door... and the table... not to mention you spent time out of your day to watch over my dumb ass, y’know?” Smiling, blush fills the young girl's cheeks as she scratches the back of her head with her free hand.
“Oh,” I look away, a little dumbfounded from her selflessness. “You really don’t need to worry about that. I’m sure I can afford some repairs after you kill more slimes and I rack up more profit out of you. You might have done a sloppy job, Sam, but you did a job nonetheless. The gold is yours.”
Her strong, gloved hands squeeze mine even harder. “I’m serious, Boss. I. Don’t. Want. It."
"Well, it's not like I can just not pay you. The Association will know, they-"
"All I want is a place to stay and some food,” She bites her lip and looks away, “You’ve already done so much for me... Daddy.” Sam whispers.
Enough is enough, and I pull away from the young Princess. “Why do you insist on calling me that? A man can only take so much, you know!”
A mischievous grin appears on the girl's face as she takes a step closer towards me, crossing over past the wreckage of my desk.
Sam grabs me by the collar of my dress shirt, pulling so close that our faces almost touch. For a moment, I almost think she’s about to kiss me with those plump, red lips of hers, but the girl instead drags my ear to her mouth and says in a low, sultry drawl, “Because you’re cute when I get you all flustered. Do I need any other reason, dummy?” Sam giggles as she lets go, dropping her seductive tone and returning to a tomboyish cadence.
It takes me a hot minute to recover from this severe amount of teasing, but I think I finally understand what this is all about when I do. I'm ashamed I didn't catch it earlier, but I let optimism get the best of me.
I sigh and turn away from the girl, disappointment growing heavy within me. "Look... if you’re worried that I’m going to throw you out, if you don’t give me a reason to keep you around, then don’t be. I’m not that kind of person. You don’t need to pretend that I’m your type, or flirt with me, or anything like that just because you’re-”
She looks over her shoulder, raising one eyebrow.
To my great surprise, Sam actually looks dumbfounded that I would take her behavior as anything other than genuine. “Dude, it’s not like that. I seriously just think you’re cute. That’s all.” The girl has a deep-set frown on her face, now dragging out a sincere feeling of guilt from the pit of my stomach.
“I... I see. I'm sorry for insinuating otherwise.” I’ll be the first one to admit I’m not accustomed to playing the sort of games that women play, so I cough and adjust my glasses while looking away. Being able to accurately read body language and facial cues don’t make me a mind reader, which I need to remind myself of more often.
"Good. I'm glad we've reached an understanding!" Her emerald gaze lingers upon me until I watch as a toothy grin spreads across her cheeks. From the way she looks at me, I feel like I've become this girl's favorite toy... a toy that she intends on playing with until there’s no more fun to be extracted.
The young Princess plops herself down on the nearest dining table and smiles straight at me, yawning and stretching in a way that shows off her ample cleavage- not that that's a challenging feat to accomplish, given her bikini armor top.
“More importantly, Boss... I’m fuckin’ starving. I haven't had a decent meal in over a week. What’s a girl gotta do to get some dinner around here?” To continue her little teasing, the girl places the tip of her finger on the bottom of her full lips. When coupled with her almost bewitching eyes, Sam makes it as difficult as she can to look her straight in the face without my heart racing.
Gods, this is getting to be a little much. Dinner will be a good excuse for me to go and clear my head, thankfully. I smile at the girl, saying, "It's part of the job of any Guild Master to ensure there's food on the table, so I'd be happy to provide. My supplies are rather low now, but rest assured, I can reliably cook something up for us both. I apologize in advance if it’s not up to your usual standards.”
A slight sweat breaks out on Sam's brow as she breaks eye contact and looks away. “What do you mean by that, Boss? I, uh... eat peasant food all the time. Yup.”
“Indeed,” I roll my eyes. Because people who eat regular food all the time refer to it as 'peasant food', sure. Whatever you say, Sam.
I begin making my way to the Guild’s kitchen, and before I duck into the room, Sam calls out to me, asking, “Would it be lame if I asked if you had any sausage?”
She giggles at her own joke, and I remove myself from her presence.
The familiar sight of my kitchen is the only reprieve I’ll have from the cheeky adventurer for a few hours, so I intend on making the most of it and absorbing myself into my craft. During my grandfather’s day, we had several live-in cooks who fed our roster of adventurers, but they only stayed for a few years after his death.
Cooking was just one of the many skills I forced myself to learn while trying to run an Adventurer’s Guild. While I wouldn’t call myself a master chef by any means, I’m certainly no slouch. Miss Hart made sure of it by filling my mind with culinary know-how.
In no time at all, I prepare for Her Highness a quick yet hearty meal consisting of potato soup, eggs, dried apple slices, and for the main course, two moderately sized haunches of garlic-salted lamb sprinkled with grated cheese.
I would have much rather preferred to welcome Sam to the Guild with a more excellent dinner than this random assortment of whatever I could find on hand, but she arrived before I typically get my groceries.
No matter. I can more than make up for it with something I do have in abundance- alcohol. I whip out two wooden tankards out and set to work mixing up a set of cocktails for the finishing touch on our little feast.
Bartending is yet another skill I picked up over the years, and transitioning into a depressive shut-in only honed that craft. That might sound sad, but it is what it is. The reason why I picked it up in the first place is simple, the only thing adventurers love more than gold is spending it on mountains of booze. I thought if I could become a master of mixing, it would give my adventurers even more reason to stick around the Dewhurst Adventurer's Guild. Didn't entirely turn out how I wanted, but it was an honest attempt.
For myself, I mix up a traditional Karnallian cocktail known as the Olden Days.
To make it, the drink takes a pinch of sugar, a splash of bitters, and a heavy dose of Bragosian vodka. All that's left after that is to mix in just the slightest hint of bottled Pixie tears for a melancholic aftertaste that helps one remember the times gone by.
The thing is, when I have myself a sip of the drink to test how well it came out, I find that it doesn't taste as good as it usually does. I stare at the cocktail with a dissatisfied glare. Maybe all the positivity around here has me thirsting after something a little less depressing, for once.
It's a waste, but I dump the drink out into the sink. I was running low on Pixie tears, so it's as good a time as any to kick the habit.
I mix myself up a second, much simpler cocktail known as a White Rusalka to compensate for my loss. All that one takes is some vodka, an ounce of sweet coffee, and a splash of heavy cream. It's always been a favorite drink of mine whenever I was feeling a bit festive. Unfortunately, I've never been lucky enough to try an 'official' White Rusalka, which is made by mixing in a strand of actual Rusalka hair, but I've heard the taste is divine.
The taste test brings a smile to my lips, and I set my cocktail down on the counter so I can focus on preparing a drink for my guest. It takes me a moment to consider all of the options. I know many drinks, and narrowing the nearly infinite choices down to suit one specific person has never been an easy task.
Sam is a fiery, feisty brat with a lot of spunk, but she has a genuinely sweet side. When thinking about it like that, the choices become slimmer and slimmer until I finally settle on the idea of making her a Dragon's Burst.
It's sweet yet spicy, and it goes down hard, but I'd wager it's right up her alley. You start with some dark cinnamon fire rum, add in some Dwarven sugar crystals, and lastly, add a splash of ginger juice to really help bring out the contrast between the two flavors.
One sip later, and I'm convinced that it's ready for Sam... there's just one little thing nagging on my mind. After slaving over Sam’s cocktail like this in excruciating detail, I find it harder and harder to convince myself that I’m not trying to impress the girl in some way.
Trying to shake this creeping feeling, I pile up the meal and the drinks onto a tray that I can take back into the entrance hall. Then, I head out to serve dinner to Sam.
She's right where I left her, only now, her mouth is watering like a leaky spigot. If I didn't know any better, I'd say it looks like the poor thing hasn't eaten in days.
“I regret to inform the young lady that there was not a single sausage to be found,” I say while unloading the contents of the tray onto the table. The young blonde eyes up her piping hot meal piece by piece, licking her lips and practically gaping without the slightest hint of nobility.
“Normally, I’d make a joke about helping you find some, but damn, this stuff looks so damn good that it’s throwing me off my game!” She doesn’t even wait for me to pass the utensils. Sam just grabs one of the lamb haunches with her bare hands and digs in. Her eyes open wide at the first bite, and she starts scarfing down the meal like she’d never encountered food before.
“Holy SHIT,” She says with an overstuffed mouth full of dinner, bits and pieces flying out in every direction. “This is... so... mng... GOOD!”
I blush upon receiving such a compliment while also averting my eyes from Sam's disgusting table manners. Whatever etiquette lessons they no doubt gave this girl back home, they sure as hell didn't stick. “Thank you, It’s... nothing special, really.”
Sam finishes swallowing a deep bite and burps rather rudely. “Well, I’ve been eating hardtack, cheese, and jerky the entire journey from Perlshaw to here, so...”
“Ah, no wonder dinner tastes so good for you. I can't imagine how you handled living off of rations.” I’ve never been on any long journeys before. Call me spoiled, but I don’t know if I could manage the lack of good food on the road.
“No, no! Your cooking is good, even besides that!" Her eyes sparkle with adorable, genuine enthusiasm. I had forgotten how gratifying it can feel when someone enjoys your cooking with all their heart.
“Thank you. If that's the case, then make sure you let me know how you find your drink, too.” I remind her, noticing she’s yet to touch her cocktail.
“Oh, sure. What is it?” Sam brings it to her nostril and sniffs, her eyes turn watery from the drink’s fizzing vapor. She blinks them repeatedly to get the moisture out, exclaiming, “Gah! That's some strong stuff, alright!”
She makes me laugh, and I explain, "If it's not to your liking, then just let me know. I took the liberty of assuming what sort of drink you might enjoy and mixed this cocktail with that in mind. Ever heard of a Dragon’s Burst?"
She raises an eyebrow once again. "Nope. Never had a cocktail in my life. Back home, I only ever had fancy wines and junk like that, y'know?"
"Well, you are rather young, so I guess you haven't had many chances to enjoy many types of spirits. No time like the present to expand your palate."
"Hmmm... somebody sure seems eager to get me to drink this," Sam smiles inappropriately, turning around the fizzing red drink in her hands. "Did ya spike it with something, perv?"
I almost spit up my cocktail at the thought. “Gods, Sam! I would never-”
Sam slaps her knee while drinking half the glass in one go. A Dragon's Burst usually gone down hard, but Sam handles the drink so well that its fiery effect doesn't even interrupt her as she says, “I know, I'm just playin'. I know you’re a good guy, Boss.”
I wash down her teasing by finishing off my White Rusalka, while the brat does the same to Dragon's Burst. She slams the tankard on the table, licks her lips, exhales a deep, contented sigh, and pushes her plate away.
With genuine appreciation sparkling in her emerald eyes, Sam smiles, saying, “Thanks for the grub. It really hit the spot, especially the booze! I've never had a drink like that before, but I'll be a happy girl if there's more of 'em in my future. Man... now that I think about it, not only are you a kick-ass chef, but you make damn fine drinks, too. Is there anything you aren’t good at, Boss?”
Even though it has no reason to do so, my negativity manifests. I impulsively answer, “In case you haven't noticed, running a Guild.”
Sam stares at me, quickly becoming concerned. Damn. I didn't mean to go and spoil the mood like that, but it just came out without me even thinking. I rush to correct my mistake.
After putting on a friendly smile, I tell the girl, “It was only a jest, a bit of dark humor. Pay it no mind."
She doesn't look like she believes me, ”You doin' ok there? That kinda came outta nowhere, Boss."
"I'm fine, just still not used to the whole 'having a reason to be optimistic about my life' thing. Give me time, and it might become more normalized."
"It better because I got even more reasons for you to be excited. Think about it. You get to cook food for me every day from now on!"
"Ah, yes. The thought has me practically jumping for joy."
Taking note of my sarcasm, Sam smirks and leans across the table. "What, you saying you don't wanna have dinner and share drinks with a cute girl like me?"
I smile politely, trying to hold back the fluttering in my heart. “I think I could get used to it... if you managed to develop some table manners.”
Sam makes a frazzled expression and then promises to make an attempt- if she absolutely has to, ending dinner on a positive note.
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