Chapter 80 – Proposal
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“I have told you before that I will not put up with those excuses,” Zigferd bellowed as SJ reached the top of the stairs leading to his office. A Bugbear came hurrying past, nearly bowling her over.

“Yes, Mayor,” it called, not slowing as it headed downstairs.

SJ walked over to the mayor’s office, where Zigferd sat at his desk, holding his head in his hands and mumbling to himself.

“Zigferd. Are you ok?” SJ asked, concerned, before she even reached his door.

Looking up, the Mayor saw SJ and smiled. “I'm Sorry, SJ. This is just some bad news again.”

“Anything that I can help with?” SJ asked.

“Unless you can find the funds to repair the bridge to the dock, then no.”

“What?” How has the bridge been damaged?” SJ had crossed the bridge on several occasions, and it was a solid structure.

“Some idiot decided to try and shift a whole wagon of stone over in one go for a new storehouse being built. Trying to save on costs, the load was too heavy for the structure. The bridge collapsed, and the wagon sank, dragging the horses in with it.”

“The horses got drowned?” SJ said, shocked.

“No. Thankfully, the driver jumped in and cut the reins, allowing them to swim to the shoreline. The problem is that it needs repairing as a matter of urgency, and this month, the funds are already low after the compensation from the battle.”

“Can you not get it repaired and then pay afterwards? I am sure the town members realise the importance of the docks?”

“They do, and they would. The problem is that we have been eating into the town’s reserves for months. With no new income and without the Mithril mine being operational, we have no spare funds currently.”

“Is there no way of increasing the town's income? Is there nothing that you can export to surrounding towns or villages? I am not sure what is around here geographically.”

“Several smaller towns and villages exist, but many feel the pinch themselves. The new chancellor at Asterfal has increased the taxes on everyone since he took over. Focusing on Asterfal only by all accounts. I haven’t paid over the past two months and have been issued a writ for monies owed.”

“How can you be paying Asterfal? They didn’t even help with the Hobs.”

“They did initially. They funded the increase in the guard force when the Hobs first showed up. That is all they did, though, so after we recruited more guards, they cut any more coin or failed to provide any other support. This now means that we have a larger guard than we need. Although considering expansion in the future, we will need an even larger guard eventually, especially with the open avenues across the territories.”

“You are in a catch twenty-two then.”

“Sorry?” Zigferd replied, scrunching his face in confusion.

“It is a term from where I am from. You need growth, but you can’t afford it, and without growth, you will eventually suffer. So, you can’t do right for doing wrong.”

“Basically, yes. The council are split on how to proceed. I have suggested increasing town taxes, but that reduces the viable funding within the town itself.”

“I had started to think that, in many ways, the town was self-sufficient financially.”

“It is. Our exports are limited. Mining and fishing are our main income streams, but these are limited due to the surrounding areas not having the coin themselves with the amended taxation."

“Anyway, that is enough about my problems. What can I do for you?”

SJ stood silently for a moment. " If I am voted in, I will provisionally accept your invitation to the council.”

“That is fantastic news, but why provisionally?" Zigferd replied.

“I have a few questions, though, and need to understand some things.”

“Of course. What would you like to ask?”

“Voting. I am aware there are currently 25 members, including yourself. If I joined the council, there would be 26 members. That could potentially mean split votes in the future. I would like to propose that you also invite Fran to the council. That way, we have two racial representatives like the other races, and voting would remain freely abled.”

Zigferd raised his eyebrow, considering what SJ had said before he replied, “I could offer Mistress Francisca a position, but I doubt she would take it. She has never shown interest outside of general support for the town; by that, I mean in relation to the council.”

“If you don’t ask, you will never know.”

“That is true, and I will take it as an idea. There is another option to consider.”

“What is that?”

“If you are voted in, which I am sure you will be, I suggest you join as a non-voting member. That way, it remains the same, and you can be impartial over future decisions. It also means that you will not be tied up in as many meetings or problems that require discussion, as I know you will still have your growth to focus on.”

“That sounds like a great option,” Dave said.

Considering his comments, SJ had to agree. Being a council member without the restrictions around voting would be more of an advisory function, which sounded more suited to her.

“I like the non-voting option.”

“If you agree, it will be added to the proposal before voting. I am sure it will only support your case further if anyone is against it.”

SJ was nervous because the decision over her joining the council would be based on a vote of confidence. “I have met with most of the council's race representatives, and most were quite amenable. The only one who seemed to have any major problems when I went to see them was Orik.”

“Hahahahaha. Orik likes you. You have no problem with Orik’s vote.”

“Really? That is not the impression I get,” SJ replied, shocked.

“Once you know Orik, you will realise that the grumpier he is towards you, the more you are in his favour. He has always been the same in his relationships and interactions with others. He holds Shelly in such high regard but will never tell her to her face.”

“Has anyone ever mentioned it to her? She has a real issue with him.”

“I am not sure, but it also does no harm to Orik as he normally gets what he needs to do from the dwarven community without any arguments. I can virtually always guarantee his support.”

“Talking about the mines, I need to see how they have progressed.”

“Very well. The infrastructure is nearly complete. From the last report I received, they were finishing building the rails to bring the ore to the ridge from the entrance.”

“When do you think that they will commence mining and smelting?”

“Mining is hoped to commence within the week. Smelting is something else entirely. Nevik arrived the other day and is currently discussing the smelter's location. He wants it close to the mine, which means we will have to clear some of the forest, but we don’t want it too close to the edge advertising that a smelter has suddenly appeared, drawing unnecessary attention.”

“Will that matter if the wall gets built in the valley?”

“No. Long term, it won’t, but we can’t build the wall until we start making money. Selling raw Mithril ore is just not as profitable as selling smelted ore. We also need to find a way to get it to market.”

“I am not sure, but I may know about that. I can’t guarantee it yet, but there is a possibility that I know someone who could help. If they can help, I expect them to want a cut.”

“If you know anyone, please speak to them and let me know. I am willing to offer a percentage cut of profit if we can get the materials onto the market safely and securely. I must add, without drawing attention to the town. I could go to the dwarven miner's guilds, who I am sure would snap my hand off to be involved, but then it would become general news, and that’s when we are likely to start seeing issues from people coming here. Ideally, I would like it to remain unnoticed for as long as possible.”

“Are you not concerned about people in the town talking about it?” SJ asked.

“No. All those aware are sworn under the Oath to secrecy regarding town matters. They couldn’t openly discuss it unless they wished to break their Oath, and if they did, then more fool them.”

The consideration of Oath’s intrigued SJ more than anything else now. “If I join the council, I assume I must take an Oath?”

“You would be asked to be a standard part of the enrolment ceremony.”

“Okay. I will speak to them and see what they think about whether they can help or not, and I will let you know. I was also unaware of the Oath need until you mentioned it, so it is something else to consider.”

“I am sorry. I didn’t even consider it. It is part of the standard working of any town.”

“That’s fine, but let me consider it a little first. As things stand, I am willing to accept the position, with the caveat while considering the Oath requirement.”

“That is understood. Thank you for coming to see me, and I hope it won’t prevent your consideration. I believe you have much to bring to Killic over the years.”

SJ reeled a little at the comment. She had never even considered the term years.

“No problem. Thanks for your time. I will let you know if I can think of anything to help with the finances. I am a dab hand at working with numbers.”

Leaving the barracks, SJ had ideas running through her mind.

“You have that look on your face again,” Dave said.

“Which look?”

“The one where you are thinking. Either that or you have constipation.”

SJ snorted, getting a strange look from a female orc walking with her child.

“Sorry. I just remembered a joke.” She said, smiling at the scowling face. “Don’t make me laugh,” she whispered.

“So, what are you thinking?”

“I think we both know someone who may or may not be able to help.”

“Fizzlewick?”

“Yes.”

“It’s a consideration, I suppose, but I am unsure how the System would react.”

“Did you not say he has been an advisor in a capital of all places.”

“Well, yes, he has. I am unsure whether he will be allowed to get involved at this level.”

“What does the level matter? If he had helped a capital before, why could he not have helped a town? He even said to himself that he was enjoying it here. I also want to let him know I have more of an idea about my mana now.”

SJ had been practising her mana use again, and she had managed to trigger it several times, but she wanted to confirm the speed and details to create the slots now. Reaching the tailors, she burst into the shop enthusiastically, throwing the door open a little too quickly and losing a grip on the handle. The door flew inwards and collided with one of the mannequins that displayed some of the clothes, sending it flying across the shop floor.

The three customers standing inside turned around at the crashing door and dummy.

“Sorry,” SJ said sheepishly, feeling her cheeks get very hot. She bent over, picked the mannequin up, and placed it back where it should have been. The customers turned back to the counter, and SJ glanced, seeing the quizzical look of the Quarterling looking from around the side of the counter.

SJ made herself busy browsing the clothes on display and even picked up a couple of items she liked the look of. She didn’t need to wear her dress all the time and thought it was about time to upgrade her wardrobe. As Fizzlewick finished serving the last customer, she waited patiently in line. As soon as they were gone, he locked the door and flicked the closed sign, closing the shutters.

“What has brought you here in such a hurry and so excited?” he asked as he changed to his human form.

“Two things. Firstly, I have managed to start controlling my mana.”

“That is very fast. You continue to impress me, and what else?”

“I need to ask you a specific question about whether or not you are willing to help.”

The God raised an eyebrow and half smirked. “I'm 'Willing' to help. I see. Unless you let me know what you are wondering about, I can’t confirm either way.”

“Ok. The second question is first, then. You are aware of the Mithril mine?”

“Of course, yes.”

“The town is looking to smelt and sell the ore.”

“Understandable, smelting will get a better price.”

“They don’t want to appear as a seller on the market suddenly, and I was wondering if you had any ideas or thoughts on how it may be achieved?”

Fizzlewick continued to smirk. “You are asking if I can help?”

“Well, not directly, but yes. Would you be able to help at all?”

“As for help, what exactly did you have in mind?”

“Dave told me you have been an advisor for a capital before.”

“Yes,” Fizzlewick replied, smirking.

It was a strange expression to see on the God's face, and there must be an underlying reason for his facial response. “Would you be able to advise and support the town?”

“And how would I be doing this?" Fizzlewick leaned back against the countertop, resting his elbow as he casually looked at SJ.

SJ could feel her nerves tingling as she asked a God whether he could help, but it was strange how she saw him, because even though he was a God, he always seemed more like a grandfatherly figure.

“If Killic suddenly went to market selling Mithril, it would draw a huge amount of unwanted attention and questions. Is there anything you could do to assist in the distribution of the Mithril that would not draw the attention of the rest of the continent towards Killic? I am aware of the territory restrictions normally imposed on Mithril, and if they did go to market, it would very likely draw the wrong kind of attention.”

“I see. Well, then, let me consider the question. You are asking if I can somehow influence the distribution of the Mithril into the market without people knowing where it came from?”

“Basically, yes.”

“If I were to undertake such an activity, how would this transactional process benefit me? I am a God and do not require Amatheran possessions after all.”

“What would you wish for if you could in any way support the distribution of the Mithril?”

“Now, that is a tricky question. There is nothing I need, although the proposition to be involved in the town's influence as this new approach is taken is quite intriguing.”

“New approach?”

“We are aware of the boundaries and the adjustments just like you are. We were conferred with before they were implemented. That is one of the exciting aspects of your involvement in them and your status.”

SJ opened her eyes wide. “So, you know about the sandbox?”

“I am not sure what a sandbox is, but I know enough. Unfortunately, I cannot say what I know. Suffice to say that things are only just getting started,” he smiled.

“So, could you help?”

“I may be in a position to provide some guidance and influence regarding the distribution of Mithril, yes.”

“That is amazing,” SJ said excitedly.

“But...” Fizzlewick said, pausing.

“But what?” SJ asked, her excitement disappearing immediately.

“But I would like to meet with the Mayor in person. Although I have seen him, I have never met the man, and I would like to fully understand who I will be working with. I know that you trust him, and they trust you, as your reputation shows. It doesn’t mean that I trust him, though.”

“You want to meet him as yourself?” SJ was shocked by the request.

“I said in person. I never said as who or what,” Fizzlewick smiled.

“Can you not already tell what he is like?” SJ asked.

“If you mean, can I get involved and see what is happening? Well, yes, if I wished to, I could. I like to be able to look a being in their eyes when I talk business. I don’t bother getting involved with the day-to-day lives of most, as their choices are their own. I have my followers that I need to look after and consider before the normal population of Amathera. You would be amazed at the number of prayers I receive each day to help with specific tasks for tailoring.”

The thought of the thousands of prayers that a God may receive daily was mind-blowing.

“How do you do it?”

“Do what?”

“Answer all the prayers.”

“Oh. Well, it is a little complex to explain but every prayer received carries a rating via the System, the higher the rating the more influence the individual is using therefore the more astral essence that I am given. This astral essence is then used as part of supporting the wider tailoring profession. The intricacies and details are a little complex, but overall, as long as input remains higher than output, then the coffers stay full, and influence remains. It is a continual function of a God. One of my siblings once didn’t bother responding to any of his prayers, and he soon came unstuck. His astral pool shrunk, and he was left high and dry. After that, it took him a long time to regain his astral pool.”

“It sounds more like a business than anything else.”

“I suppose it is when you consider it.”

“I thought you gained your essence from items that are made?”

“The majority of my essence does come from item creation. Although I do still receive prayers as well.”

It was mind-boggling to consider that the Gods worked on a transactional level over prayer receipts.

“When would you be able to meet the Mayor?”

“I can be free whenever needed.”

“I am confused about how you will present yourself to him.”

“It won’t be as you see me now.”

SJ felt nervous about introducing Zigferd to Fizzlewick. “What name would you go by? I can’t just say Fizzlewick, as he may know of your past, and I can’t use Haber, your true name.”

“Umm. I think I will use my Elven form. He uses the name Nexis. Would you like to see him?”

“Yes, please,” SJ said. It was amazing seeing God change forms so easily.

Fizzlewick's facial features began to change in moments, and his body shape adjusted, growing in height by several inches. Once he had finished transforming, the Elf that stood before her was a being of beauty. He looked perfect, standing almost six feet tall, with finely sculptured olive skin and vibrant green eyes.

SJ gasped in amazement, taken aback by the transformation. “Is there anything you can’t transform into?”

The voice that responded was different and now held a musical lilt. “Unfortunately, I am restricted to bipedal forms. Becoming a Dragon would have been great, but we can’t.”

“You look stunning,” SJ said, unable to take her eyes off him. He was wearing a beautifully cut outfit that clung to his frame, accentuating his athletic appearance, and SJ could imagine him being the star model at a Paris fashion week.

“Why thank you,” Fizzlewick replied, smiling.

His smile added another layer to his beauty. “You may be a little intimidating.”

“What makes you think that?” he asked quizzically.

“You look like a perfect specimen.” SJ thought the Charisma of this persona must be nearly one hundred, if not higher.

“This form does have its benefits, and I usually use it for negotiations,” he smiled.

“I am sure it does,” SJ said, feeling a little star-struck looking at him. Her stomach was in knots. She remembered feeling the same way when she had been to watch her favourite band in concert as a teenager when one of them had looked at her during their performance. “I will speak to the Mayor and arrange the best time. There is a council meeting tomorrow, so it won’t be until after that.”

“Ah. Yes. The votes.”

“You know about them?”

“I know most things. Just because I have not been to or met many of these people in person doesn’t mean I don’t know what is happening where I am currently choosing to reside.”

Reeling from the transformation and the God's cryptic undertone, SJ remembered why she had come to visit him again.

“Before I forget again. What speed do I need to push mana for the enhancement slots?”

“Ideally it will be a natural speed, it can vary for everyone, but never forced or held back. Unfortunately, that is the only advice I can give. There is no right or wrong. It is what your body decides is best when in a meditative state, and the only way you will know is when you can achieve the result. Then, it is the case of repeating it as you need to, which is where the challenge comes in. Many have managed it once or twice but then struggled again, so give up on slot enhancements. That is why those that are skilled can make themselves very wealthy.”

What he said was tied to the information that Fran had given him. “I will keep trying then and hope that it works. Also, I was practising on a cloth bundle. I wanted to ask as I am a little uncertain, but when creating a slot, should I not be practising on a completed item?”

“No. For practice, there is no point. If you fail to enhance an item, you can reduce its quality. On a raw material, it doesn’t affect it.”

“Can I then use the material to make something, and it gets the slot when made?”

“No. That would be great if you could because then you would never have the issue of failing against an item, but unfortunately, again, it’s not allowed. Once you use the material, it loses anything added to it.”

“Can I practice on the same cloth bundle multiple times?”

“Yes. As a raw material, it can be enhanced as much as you wish with no restrictions, as it holds no benefit and could never actually take an enchantment.”

“I see. That is useful to know. I had better go now, but thank you so much for agreeing to meet the mayor. I will let you know when it can be arranged.”

“No problem at all. It has been a pleasure, as always, SJ. Keep up the good work. I see a bright future in you,” Nexis smiled.

“If I got additional data storage, every time you are involved in something I have not witnessed before in Amathera, I would soon have more storage than the System,” Dave said in amazement as SJ returned to the Inn.

SJ smiled at his comment. She whispered, “I need to consider how to arrange the meeting. I can’t just have him suddenly arrive without any prior warning. It would be strange if someone looking like Nexis suddenly appeared in the town and no one had seen him before.”

“That is a very good point. Although do you know and see everyone in the town?”

“Not daily, no, of course not, but an Elf with his looks would have been noticed, believe me.”

“Really? I thought he was a little mediocre.”

“Mediocre? Are you kidding me? He was beautiful.”

“Have you fallen for your deity?” Dave asked sarcastically.

SJ could feel her cheeks heating up. “No, I don’t mean it that way,” she replied, flustered.

“Sure, sure. I believe you,” Dave said, chuckling.

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