Natalie had chosen mining as her harvesting skill for a reason. First, it was one of the more lucrative paths—metal was in high demand, not just for delvers, but society in general—and extra funds were always welcome as a first-year student. For any year student, and experienced career delvers too, for that matter. Money made the world go round.
Second, and more importantly, gathering raw materials for commissions was much cheaper than buying something from the Exchange outright. Low-level crafters were, as a general rule, more than happy to accept jobs for cheap, since they needed ways to gain experience. Seeing how many even outright bought their own ore to practice with, being paid to practice was more than a favorable result.
Higher level crafters, of course, weren’t in the same situation. Their rarity and skill meant commissions were actually more expensive than buying from the Exchange. Though in their case, the control they had made them more desirable; they could customize specifically to what you requested. But high level crafters were rare, even more so than high-level delvers.
Fitting to Tenet’s modus-operandi, there were approved ‘Tenet crafters’ which Natalie would have to arrange a commission through; it couldn’t be anyone. Having free reign into the city of Aradon, Natalie wondered not for the first time how thoroughly Tenet could enforce those policies, and whether they indeed did at all. She decided against testing it for obvious reasons. High risk for little reward. To her knowledge, the ‘Tenet approved’ crafters weren’t more expensive, or worse quality, they just operated by credits rather than helixes—the Valhaurian standard currency. And likely, had Tenet oversight, whatever that meant.
Being out in Aradon proper was, like usual, a spectacle. The vibrancy and density of the city would never stop astounding her. Having grown up in a town with a population of a few hundred, a city of hundreds of thousands boggled her mind. Fortunately, a delver was nothing if not adept at dealing with the new and incredible. Her disorientation reflected itself only through her wide-eyes and wandering pace as she passed through the crowded streets, headed for the crafter’s district.
Soon enough, she’d arrived to her destination.
She didn’t have a particular shop in mind, having simply headed for the blacksmithing section of the crafter’s district. Turning a corner, an anvil and forge revealed itself as the source of the loud clanging Natalie had been approaching, opened up and on display right there in the city street.
She paused at the woman standing there, clanging a hefty hammer into a long blade of metal, face covered by a thick mask to protect her from the sparks.
The sight took a second to digest. Natalie herself was more muscular than most women, and taller too, but that physique didn’t hold a candle to the woman in front of her. Easily six-foot or more, built like a brick house, the tanned blacksmith battering a newly born sword into submission would have even most men glancing at their biceps and frowning.
Natalie didn’t have a specific type, so to say, appreciating most feminine forms, even the ones that leaned masculine, but the sheer bulk of the dark-haired woman in front of her had her as intimidated as … other stuff. Less appropriate emotions.
The woman, having seen Natalie arrive, spared a glance for her, then continued battering away at the sword. Natalie intuited she was open for business, but needed to finish up before speaking. That didn’t bother Natalie. Gawking was hardly appropriate, but she didn’t gawk. She just … observed the woman go about her craft. The way her muscles rippled with each impact of hammer on steel. Okay, she’d admit she was definitely standing there and admiring, but not overtly. That would be impolite.
At the first opportunity to break—it took a bit, but Natalie was happy to wait—she turned to Natalie and appraised her with a quick up and down. She quirked an eyebrow in silent prompting.
“Hey,” Natalie said. “You take Tenet commissions?”
That got her full attention, and Natalie understood why. Delvers had lucrative careers, and Tenet students doubly so. Plus, seeing how the woman seemed to be young, around the same age as Natalie, she was likely low-level, and thus hungrier for commissions than a more experienced crafter might be.
“I do,” the blacksmith said. “Name’s Shara. What are you lookin’ for?”
“Nat,” she returned. “Uh. Breastplate and boots. Rush order, hopefully, ready for tomorrow.”
“Bring your own ore?”
“I did, yeah.”
“Tenacity, mostly. If possible, boots with a steadying effect. Chestplate with something that boosts a magic stat. And, like I said, rush order. Need it tomorrow.”
“Can manage that, probably,” Shara said. “But fair warning, I can only do so much, when it comes to the specifics. You’re paying either way, no matter what you get.”
“Yeah, I know.”
That was the downside of the cheaper cost: less control over what she got. But that was fine. Cost efficiency was what she was looking for. As Sammy had advised, having a full kit of gear was more important than perfect alignment to her needs. Something was better than nothing. As she climbed through the ranks, equipment perfectly suited to her class would become more important, but for now, filling her empty gear slots took highest priority. Which a novice blacksmith, supplied with ore Natalie had collected herself, could do for much cheaper than the Exchange.
“Good,” Shara said. “I’ll do my best, anyway. You trying to get bulk ore refined?”
The low-quality iron and copper—which were the only ores Natalie had found in the past several days—were materials only low-level blacksmiths concerned themselves with. She could have her ore refined by higher-level crafters, but oddly, it would turn less of a profit, not more. Maybe if she had higher quality ore. Though still valuable, the iron and copper was about as ‘trash’ of a material as it got—as expected, seeing how she’d collected it from the first floor of the dungeon.
“Yeah, that too,” Natalie said. “Have a few orbs of iron and copper. F-tier, some plus, some minus.”
Which marked her as decidedly level-one delver, but Shara wasn’t put off by that. Maybe not her best business connection, but any business was fortuitous, considering her low rank. Likely she was in the first few levels of her own class.
“Go ahead and empty it out,” Shara said, gesturing for her to follow. “Let’s get the details.”