While Lina meets with the Chimera enchanters, Osaria receives noblewoman Silvina at the entrance of the town, and Lady Ereia gets a [Gate] directly to the main hall of the castle, where Yunia and I receive her.
My first impression of Ereia is that she's an elven version of Klein, though quite a bit thirstier. The way she leaps into Yunia's bosom triggers my jealousy. She needs to pay her respects to my cock before she can play with Yunia's breasts.
My second impression of her is that she's cute as fuck. She's a thin, smol, and bespectacled young girl with a body made for fucking and worshiping. Her hair is straight, though some of it is braided, giving her an innocent and book-smart look, though Yunia thinks her real personality is that of a cheeky goblin.
Yunia pries her off, and Ereia giggles girlishly. "You never change, Yu," Ereia teases her.
"Neither do you," Yunia responds with a hint of annoyance but also warmth.
The giggling dies down when her blue eyes meet with mine. She adjusts her round glasses and blinks rapidly as she looks over my whole body.
"Impressive…" She mutters in wonder, then she clears her throat awkwardly and bows. "It's an honor to meet you, Lord Ryder," she politely greets without a hint of a goblin in her tone.
I merely nod respectfully and take a seat. "I take it that you're very familiar with Yulania, my fiance?" I interrogate her sternly.
She takes a second to swallow heavily, and Yunia answers in her stead, "We've been friends since we were children, and she used to live in the outer layer of the castle grounds." Her words are full of meaning, and she opens her [Bind] connection to let her memories flood through.
I smile kindly at Ereia and stop messing with her. "I see. Then your return should be a happy event for all of us." -A few of the memories almost trigger the sadist within me again- "Though I believe that you're a little closer than just friends. Perhaps… 'friends with benefits'?"
The duo stays silent for a moment as they take their seats and process my words, but they only show confusion about the phrasing I used.
"'Benefits'?" She questions, focusing on the word that her mind got hung up on.
I nod and answer sagely, "Well, yes. Your relationship isn't close enough to say that you're lovers, but the average pair of friends don't tend to have sex with each other, so we can say that you two share something more, something extra: the 'benefit' of having sex."
"I thought it was more like prostitution," Ereia confesses, and Yunia and I both stare at her oddly, making her blush almost instantly. "I'd give information to Yunia, and she'd allow me to 'play' with her in return," -she suddenly frowns- "though now that I think about it, you'd never let me play until I was satisfied, so it was hardly a fair trade."
"You had the honor of tasting my virgin nectar. That should be more than enough," Yunia states and turns her nose away snobbishly, then she also blushes in embarrassment at her own words.
Ereia starts giggling, and it takes us a few moments before everyone has recomposed themselves.
It's curious that this world doesn't have the concept of "friends with benefits." I guess they're more focused on the aspect of the "trade" while "free choice to do what I want" is secondary. I guess it also explains why voluntary slavery and prostitution is so normalized here.
"I'd love to catch up, but I didn't come here just for that," Ereia starts to steer the conversation back into more serious territory. "During my time in Goloria, I also took the opportunity to 'spread my ears around,' and I heard some juicy rumors."
"Oh…?" I hum in curiosity.
Ereia adjusts her glasses again and fixes her posture into something more lady-like. "The first rumor is about you, my Lord, the new draconic Crown Lord, and his dashing appearance during the selection of the Lordsguard. The populace is intrigued by you, but I can't say whether they see you positively or negatively."
"Within expectations. I might even say that this couldn't be better," Yunia comments, and I agree. A non-elven Lord not being seen negatively in the High Forest is an achievement for us, but I'd say that Yunia's presence has contributed the most for this to be so.
"Also, you don't have to call me 'Lord' in private," I tell Ereia, and she gives me a kind smile.
She waits a moment for any further comments, then continues, "However, the merchant class is wary due to your treatment of Signeur Caruso. The news of what you did will take time to spread far, but those who've heard it have cold feelings towards you."
Yunia snorts dismissively and comments again, "Unless we show favoritism, merchants will always be self-serving, even elven ones. They wouldn't have achieved their great wealth if they were charitable or honorable."
I've seen the same in the sociopath CEOs of Earth. Greed manifests itself the same way, no matter the world.
Ereia nods respectfully, and continues with a neutral tone, "Among the nobility, the prevailing theory is that Lord Wolf Ryder's title of True Noble, specifically, has been 'bought' or at least that he has been 'carried' by his harem. Many of them point out that Yu is a fierce warrior who knows [Precognition], so they say that it's only because of you that Wolf has acquired the title."
Now that is offensive. The priests consider the title of True Noble to be sacred, so someone paying to be "carried" to the core of a dungeon without fighting their way up, or down, depending on the dungeon, is explicit sacrilege. It's difficult to think of anything more offensive to a Lord than that, which means that my standing among the nobility is abysmal.
Yunia's eyes narrow in cold anger. "This is why the Lordship Ceremony is so important. With all the Crown and our subordinate Lords gathered together, we'll be able to show them all how wrong they are," she seethes.
"Didn't Silvano say that the other nobles think I'm Gifted? Why would these ones think the exact opposite?" I question calmly as I work to appease Yunia. It's not that I'm not angry; I just learned how to keep the dragon in check.
"Silvano…? Could it be the Silvano? The 'Silver Lightning'? I heard that he came to Escanso!" Ereia suddenly shouts in excitement, and her fingers twitch rapidly in her lap.
I nod at her. "Yes, that one…" -She suddenly squeaks like a chewing toy- "He's now serving us as a High Court Mage."
The elven goblin starts wiggling her upper body with her barely-contained excitement until Yunia's tongue whips her back into shape, "Ereia! Not now…"
Ereia suddenly freezes, then she adjusts her glasses again and lurches forward tiredly, "Yes, yes…"
"Well…?" Yunia presses her.
Ereia instantly straightens her back and shouts, "Ah, yes! The question!" Then she clears her throat. "I think it's a matter of perspective. Only the 'juicier' rumors spread far from the Rabanara and the High Forest, so the faraway nobles are wary of you while the closer ones were drowned in the half-truths, of which, many aren't that 'savory.' Even I, an elf uninterested in the town, know that you 'suddenly appeared' in Rabanara not that long ago, making your swift progress a bit unbelievable."
I raise my eyebrows in surprise and look at Yunia, but she's as calm as ever. She expected something like this. I turn back to Ereia and ask, a bit astonished, "So you did a background check on me?"
"The very moment that you were hired by Este Escort Company, owned by the Nephew of Lord Mavel Este and his not-blood-sister," she answers matter-of-factly.
I lean back against the sofa and go silent. It's a bit scary to witness how deep the information network can go.
"Do you have any more information for us?" Yunia presses her sternly.
Ereia returns to her lady-like posture and clears her throat. "Just one last rumor. It's something that a maid overheard from a private conversation among a group of lower Lords 'oppositely aligned' to Lord Wolf Ryder. It has a 'questionable' accuracy, so some details may have been warped or lost along the way…" Ereia awkwardly gesticulates, implying that she's unsure if she should even be telling us this.
Yunia knows how dangerous wrong information can be, but this time, the risk isn't as high as it could be since we already have an idea about the personalities of the disgruntled Lords. "I understand how our perspective is biased and how this may lead us to wrong conclusions, but I still want to hear it."
Ereia nods in understanding and cautiously recites what she heard, "A maid heard this: 'we ought to shame the insolent little man of clay.'"
Lina's Trivia: in the extended Tale of Creation, humans were made of clay and lightning, referring to our adaptability, the "Spark of Life," which is a specific religious concept, and how the Thunderplains was their place of birth. Then the other races came after humans by mixing them with something else. The wereanimals, dragonkin, merfolk, and beastfolk are obviously mixed with animals or monsters, the demon race with mythological beings, the dwarves with stones, the gnomes with mushrooms, and the pixies with flowers. The birth of the elves is fuzzy, and they themselves love to embellish their Tale with their own flair, but most prefer to point to the highly mana-reactive metals of gold and silver.
To call a human a "man of clay" isn't wrong, but it's also used as a subtle racial slur by the other races, depending on the context, and we know of a certain Heart Lord who might be prejudiced against humans: Ira Saponaria, the one who told Silvane that I was raping Yunia.
Yunia crosses her legs and grabs her chin. "It's believable that they'd say such a thing," she mutters thoughtfully.
"Do you have any names?" I press Ereia.
She smiles apologetically and shakes her head gently as she denies, "The maid never saw who said it, and she didn't recognize the voice either, but I think that she purposely omitted their name so that it'd be harder to trace the rumor back to her."
"Nevertheless, this information helps us predict how the Lords will react," Yunia assures her, and her red lips curl into a subtle smile.
Ereia grins like a kid who just received an A+. "I'm always happy to help."
With that, I leave them by themselves while I return to my training. Ereia is thirsty, but Yunia isn't in the mood, so they just talk while Yunia escorts her to her old house in the outer circle. They meet up with the rest of her family and exchange warm greetings even though Ereia's parents aren't thrilled to be under the care of a non-elven Lord.
Among the new arrivals, two elves catch Osaria's attention. One is Istante, Confiel's Assistant Quartermaster, and the other is a very nervous, young golden-elven woman. While Istante applies to the Lordsguard, the young girl applies to become a maid and shows a letter of reference from the High Chamberlain of Goloria.
Osaria guides them in the right direction, then helps Silvina look for houses in the Nobles' Quarters. I'm tempted to give Silvina one of our guest mansions, but she doesn't seem like the kind that needs this type of favor.
Nanaina sends us new shoes for Aoi and me, and they're much more comfortable than what we had. The padding has been better molded to the shape of our feet, so it doesn't apply pressure against the claws like the first pair did.
I barely get into the flow of my training again before Alissa comes back, so I receive her in our private Gate Hub. Once she arrives, I feel refreshed from having her Blessing increase my "Sanity" again, like a second wind that makes me feel eager to train some more.
After a gentle hug and a peck on the lips, I look towards the [Eternal Gate] and smile warmly. Dokkanchee, the old Estekabar shopkeeper that sold Nocturna's illusion magic book to Alissa, slowly comes through while leaning on her crane.
She takes off her pointy black hat and runs a pale hand through her white feathers in worry as she scans over my whole body. "I recognize these scales from just a glance; this won't be easy," the old woman grumbles with a frown, then her eyes meet with mine, and she nods respectfully. "I certainly didn't expect that we'd meet each other again in this way, Lord Ryder." With her slightly hunched back, I don't think she can bow without a lot of effort, so I won't ask her to do it.
I return the nod and chuckle once. "Neither did I, but the circumstances call for us to improvise, and you're the only one we know of who has such powers."
She starts slowly walking forward, so I sling my arm around Alissa and grab one of her ass cheeks, then we go towards Dokkanchee and meet her halfway.
The Kabar woman lowers her body so that she can get a closer look at my legs, then she pushes herself up with her cane and stares at my arms and horns.
She grabs my free arm and carefully plays with the scales, but she underestimates their incredible sharpness. She cuts herself on the edge and winces, then she immediately starts sucking on her bleeding finger.
I cast [Heal] on her and kindly suggest, "We have powerful healers that could help you with your back and even Chimeric [Alteration Mages] that could take a look at it."
She snorts and shakes her head with a sigh. "Chimeric spirits… I don't even know how to react to such a thing!" She exclaims a bit flippantly.
Alissa and I smile wryly at each other, then she advises Dokkanchee, "Not reacting is also acceptable. I'm sure that they'd appreciate it if the living didn't think too oddly of them."
"Honestly, I'm a bit jealous," the old Kabar woman frankly admits, then lets out a snort. "Being able to live in the realm for a little longer after death sounds very interesting."
I nod and agree, "Yes, we believe many others will also want the same."
She narrows her eyes, and her face becomes serious again. "But you didn't call me here just to chat. Let's see what I can do."
While Dokkan studies my draconic body parts, I observe the golems and assess how they're doing.
"Are you sure that you want them to show their skills in public?" Hana checks with me again before she gives the order.
"I kind of have a deal with the Goddess of Knowledge to spread my knowledge throughout the realm, so it's about time that I share some of my secrets," I awkwardly respond, feeling a bit guilty about how I'm hiding so many secrets.
"[Soul Manipulation] isn't that special. We can safely reveal it without losing too much tactical advantage," Alissa confidently suggests.
"Reveal it only to the Lordsguard, and tell them to keep it a secret. Ereia might be able to catch a rumor or two, which would tell us if we have a leak," Yunia adds.
"But don't mention [Equipment System] yet since we need it for the Lordship Ceremony," I caution.
"Understood," Hana answers diligently and starts her sparring session.
The golem trio has learned intermediate-level elemental magic, intermediate Conjuring, basic [Alteration Magic], and even my [Soul Manipulation]. They seem apt at recreating physical phenomena with magic, but they suffer a lot whenever they attempt to add abstract concepts to their spells, so while they can cast powerful [Lightning Bolt]s, they suck at casting [Rush].
What Arreira taught them was how to use [Equipment System] without a system, and how to [Equip] nearly a hundred different items. He also increased their [Item Box]es so that they could fill it with all sorts of different things, turning them into fantasy Inspector Gadgets.
Instead of creating the "soul material" like I do, they use [Soul Manipulation] to adapt their souls to each of the gadgets, specifically, which provides them some benefits. It allows them to use their senses through the gadgets, like touch and thermoception; it makes it much cheaper mana-wise to control them; it allows for greater precision of control in comparison to using [Telekinesis]; it allows for real materials to be used, which most certainly has better properties than my "fake matter"; and it's potentially easier to learn how to control than the way I do, though on this topic, we can't make any proper comparisons yet.
Ted and Suzy learned how to summon a larger body made of shiny, engraved steel that's about Lina's height, and it works almost as if it's their own skin, while Jarn learned how to fight like me by attaching limbs to her chain joints or hooks on her armor.
Ted's and Suzy's "battle bodies" lack features, so they're like early-Jarn was, but they can also create their own faces like current-Jarn can. They only know how to copy faces, so they haven't chosen anyone to mimic yet before consulting with us.
They also had the time to read most of Arreira's books, so while they have difficulty making their own conclusions, they can serve as oral Wikipedias for us.
The Lordsguard is a bit freaked out by them, especially Jarn since she has Yunia's face, and her multi-limb fighting style is as freaky as my multi-tentacle style. She reminds me of a Hindu god with multiple limbs attached all over her body.
Though everyone is afraid of the golems, the Chimeras are also very curious about them, especially Oritiki. The [Solidify] spell is still being researched, so while it's possible that the spell could make their bodies as tough as a real one, having a metal "battle body" would make them much more powerful.
It took four months of non-stop training for the golems to learn how to control their "battle bodies," but it's doable for a warrior without a better alternative. It doesn't have much use for anyone else besides spirits or someone searching for an unorthodox fighting style, so it won't cause a revolution like [Equipment System] will, but I'm sure that the "battle spirits" will become a sort of elite unit for us.
Oritiki approaches Hana, a deadly serious look on her long, dark face. Sandoro squints and frowns, slightly annoyed by the shininess of Oritiki's armor.
"Lord Hanafuria, I strongly believe that every Chimera warrior should learn… whatever it is the golems learned to allow them to summon a secondary body," Oritiki affirms, her eyes almost trying to bore holes through Hana's skull.
Hana nods graciously and approves, "That is a great idea, but it won't be easy."
Oritiki smirks smugly. "That won't be a problem. Soon, they'll see how powerful they could become, and then they'd even swim in the Looping Winds if it meant that they could learn."
I think she means something along the lines of "do something impossible" because you certainly can't swim in smoke.
I quickly explain the basics of [Soul Manipulation] to Hana through [Bind], and she engages "Miyagi mode." She enjoys feeling pain herself quite a lot, but she also enjoys doling it out almost as much.
Hana smirks evilly and cracks her knuckles. "Well, I'm not the one who created this skill, but I can teach you the basic 'exercise' to start," she says with a husky tone.
Oritiki pauses for a second, wary of Hana's expression, then nods apprehensively.
Arreira's technique for learning [Soul Manipulation] is rather "uncomfortable." It requires a Spirit mage to grab someone's soul with [Soul Touch] and pull on their "spirit skin" to stimulate them to learn how to move it themselves, which doesn't actually hurt, but it isn't enjoyable in the least. And would you look at that? Hana has suddenly learned how to cast that spell!
I think this is payback for her duel with Oritiki.
Ciel goes to help Lina, then they take the Chimera enchanters to meet up with Hihiriwa and discuss their plan for the expedition. We want to build an industry of gems and airships here, but before we really commit to it, we need buyers, and the biggest fish in the pond is the empire itself. Before we can get the empire's attention, though, we need a sample to showcase what we can do.
This will be the purpose of this expedition: to learn how much it'll cost to produce enchantable gems and Chimeric airships. We aren't expecting to immediately turn a profit, but the empire has a shortage of gems now that the mines in Aremut have been lost, and even if the empire doesn't want the airships, we can downscale and build them for Lords or wealthy merchants, so there are profits on the horizon.
Even before the talks have ended, the airships start mobilizing. They're itching for work, and we have enough Spirit mages to keep the crew solid now that the priests will be taking care of the commoners. They'll be ready to depart tomorrow morning, and I'll have Enomosa supervise them. Oritiki will also send her own supervisor, but she herself wants to continue the [Soul Manipulation] training for as long as is physically, or spiritually, in her case, possible.
Then the day ends, and Dokkanchee returns to Goldport. She'll come back tomorrow morning with tools and start her work immediately.
We don't have a lot of time since the Lordship Ceremony will be held in five days on the 11th.
Hall of Fame of Patrons
The patrons who support Rupegia shall have their names sung by the bards for they deserve the glory and honor. Their names are:
Prince Creamy Spinach.
Lord Andrew Meyers.
Lord Samuel Lim.
Lord Michale Erwin.
Lord Nathan Vanbrunt.
Lord Mattirro Draca.
Lord Joshua Tal.
Lord Joxsan Herrera.
Lord Sean Drake.
Lord Brody Haugan.
Lord Mike Bartter.
Lord Cardinal Steiner.
Lord Jorge Franco.
Noble Salty Panda.
Noble Mild Fracas.
Noble Shawn Plumley.
Noble War God.
Noble Jorge Franco.