Chapter 67: Rat king
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Moving from one receding shadow to another, Alicia hastily headed back towards the town. After finding a suitable hiding location she used the sub-ability of Mirror image to return to the inn.

⟨ Transposition ⟩

As the skill took effect her vision blurred and distorted until clearing up into the sight of familiar wood panels, finding herself under the covers of heavy and rough blanket.

‘Maybe I should have changed into proper sleepwear before I swapped it’s sweaty in here…’
As she made up the bed lightly, she honed in on her senses.

She could only feel the few presences awake and about with others stirring, soon to wake. Rosalia, however, was still deep in her dreams. Stepping out of their room and walking down the stairs she came across the waitress girl from the previous night sloppily dressed and rubbing the sleep out of her eyes.

  • “Uh… Ah! Ahem, has the customer had a good night’s sleep?”

Stifling a creeping yawn she inquired.

  • “There weren’t any problems.”
  • “Am glad to hear that… Would you like a morgenmete1Literally meaning “Morning Meal” it is the word for breakfast during a time period where breakfast was considered unnecessary until the high middle age/renaissance period.?”

Handing over a few spare change.

  • “Something light, no beer, preferably tea but we’ll settle for water or cider if that’s not possible, get something nice with that money you can keep the change. When it's ready could you bring it to the room? Oh and for one person only, I won’t eat.”

Pocketing the money the girl responded quickly, the last of her sleepiness eliminated.

  • “I will tell the chef of your request.”
  • “I’ll go off for a little while, if my friend asks I’ll be back soon.”
  • “Understood.”

Alicia took in all the ambiance of the quickly rousing townscape as she walked around the streets. She didn’t have a specific destination in mind simply wandering about, taking in the scenery. Wagons driven by bullock-like creatures went by every now and then. Shops opened their doors and windows and small businesses set up their stalls. Pleasant aroma of freshly baked bread suffused through the air. Despite the enticing smell, Alicia knew better to not get her hopes up.

‘Freshly fired bricks… my favorite.’

Alicia was recalling the details of the map found in the noble estate; the kingdom was, broadly speaking, divided into four major counties: Vathergand to the north, Tol Rupeasa to the west, Jongaarde to the south and of course Valtima to the east. Of these two were especially thriving; Vathergand due to bordering the sea had healthy maritime industries, trade through sea and fisheries. Valtima on the other hand had flatlands and particularly fertile soil meant it supplied much of the food of the kingdom and were of strategic importance. Even the lands currently unsettled could be turned into bountiful farmlands after some land reclamation works with the outlying bogs and marshlands. Interestingly Velauhart forest was drawn to be part of the kingdom. However in truth it seems only to be to the effect of a political land claim as it appears to be a contested territory.

Besides contesting with the extremely hostile fauna, the ever so prevalent Empire and even theocracy - who doesn’t even border the region - seems to all have claims on the territory. Though no one seems to have the gall to actually put their flag on the ground. Everyone wants to be the king or the emperor ruling the whole wide world but unfortunately in order to actually make the land their own they need to back it up with something concrete such as citizens living in the land, soldiers manning the borders and so on. Due to its nature Velauhart was a veritable jewel for countries. The forest itself was just piles upon piles of timber waiting to be harvested, its soils rife for farming and the mountains hid ores and treasures unspoken. Apparently many expeditions from many powers were sent in to set a foothold but all ended in disaster for various reasons. Eventually everyone distanced themselves from the forest some calling it sacred, specifically the theocracy.

‘Well let’s see… we have giants and ogres just hanging about in the woods wandering about trying to turn you into a burnt charcoal they call lunch, a territorial and extremely genocidal water spirit, Dragonhawks who will swoop down and pick you up like man-child before plummeting you to your doom, swarm of giant wasps wanting to turn you into their seedbed for their maggots, a horde of warboars who can spit roast skewer you, an endless number of carnivorous ants that can dismantle you down to your bone given the chance and until recently a fire spirit in the form of a fat ass dragon just chilling in the mountains. Oh and I guess now, it has a huge spider infestation. Honestly sounds like a great place to live. I don’t see why they wouldn’t go for it.’

Strolling through the forums and the flea market Alicia stocked up on important necessities for when she returned to the forest, bags upon bags of salt and spices. She bought them from different vendors to avoid the suspicion of why a single person needed so much salt and how she was going to carry it. The aim was to find someone who would be willing to regularly buy the silk and other silken products she would procure. Of course, customers who pay, tickle vendors pink, and happy vendors are more than willing to run their mouths with all kinds of wild speculations. Though most are useless fluff, there are some that have merit to it. Alicia had found a firm that held promise, yet after a brief meeting it became clear they were more into exploiting and squeezing as much profits for themselves out of a deal rather than make a long term contract. With Cold Reader, peering through their malign intents was straightforward and the Bazaar master was dumbfounded on how quick she was to back out of it.

  • ‘was it hard accept…?’
  • ‘It’s easy to just agree to their terms and be done with it and it will be just fine in the short run, but over time it will be difficult to amend the kind of deal he was selling. They are trying to make money, not do business. Business is a type of combat, a one where both sides can walk away the victor. But if you undersell yourself and give em’ an inch and they’ll take it a mile. Best not to get involved at all.’
  • ‘know… how…?’
  • ‘Not my first time seeing a swindler in collars and whites. Well in this case, robes and ornaments I suppose… Let’s head back, try this another time, if all else fails I can just start selling it to the guild, they’ll take it at a dirt cheap price though.’

Alicia arrived back at the inn, now tranquil in the early morning without customers' vigorous consumption of alcohol. When she entered the room, Rosalia had changed out of her sleepwear and into a more casual attire, examining her wrists. In only a single night the injury had healed without a trace. Rosalia herself didn’t notice it but the silken wrapping had shrunk significantly in size. For Alicia, its maker, the change was obvious but she had no idea why that was.

>Regenerative Saliva rich with virgin stem cells. Reconstruction accelerated by engrafting process.

‘You telling me my spit was, IS alive, did it drink her blood and scabs too?’

>Waste products, recycled, repurposed, resource for restoration procedure.

Eventually Rosalia noticed Alicia standing in the doorway.

  • “Oh! Welcome back. Thank you for the dressing, it has done wonders.”
  • “I can see that… Did the waitress girl bring you anything yet?”
  • “She brought in tea with an adorable set of confectionery. T’was pleasant to partake in something refined once in a while. She told me that you already paid for it. I’ve saved some for you over there.”

She said pointing to one of the end tables. Trying it out she was mildly disappointed. ‘Hard on the teeth… too much sugar… and only sugar… I know girls like sweet things but damn. I can physically feel cavities forming on my teeth and my blood sugar levels spiking.’

>Self Diagnosis unfounded.

‘Let me have my moment.’

  • “Anything you have in mind for today?”

After little pondering she answered.

  • “As much as I would like to go sightseeing around town with you, I prefer to stay hidden. Thus unfortunately I will have to stay in.”
  • “Why, is there a reason? I mean aren’t you the daughter of the ruling noble family around these parts, why stay hidden? Don’t you have a vassal or liege you can rely on?”
  • “Yes but it’s not that simple. The close allies of my family are established around the capital, and the houses in the fief over here are… let us say that they are part of the many political opponents of my house… Me being seen around this part would be a scandal they would not let go of, if possible I would like to avoid accumulating any debt to them. The message should reach the regional capital today, after that father should send an entourage to pick us up, it’ll probably take at most a day.”
  • “I understand… ‘most of it…’ If that’s the case is there anything you want while I’m out there?”

After yearningly looking at the book placed on the writing desk for a short while she turned her head back to continue the conversation.

  • “If it’s not too much trouble… I would like another book… Anything will do.”
  • “I’ll keep that in mind. I’ll be off then, stay safe now.”
  • “Of course, then please enjoy yourself, on behalf of my family it would be an honor and a pleasure for an esteemed guest such as you to visit our small fringe town.”
  • ‘Keep an eye on her for me won’t you…?’

Leaving behind a few crawlers that were with her, they started making themselves at home in the corners of the ceilings. Her image was hiding on top of the rooftops amidst the chimneys of the building as a quick return in case of an emergency. It would have been a constant energy drain without Gemini. As she was making her way out of the inn, an out of breath but familiar man was at the entrance, supporting himself against the doorway.

‘Him again… Can’t just ignore him, let’s just greet him and try to slip past…’

  • “Oh my, we meet again. I didn’t know you would stay in place like this.”

Quickly self-tidying to make himself a little more presentable he responded.

  • “Greetings, you’re mistaken I am not here for lodging.”
  • “Oh, is that so.”

With that she tried go around him but he stepped in front of her;

  • “Excuse me, the reason for my visit is you, miss. I would like to discuss a certain matter.”

‘How did he even… of course the tattletales at the guild… Well, well, well if it isn’t the consequences of my actions.’

  • “I see, unfortunately I am going out, maybe another time?”
  • “I would like to tag along if you do not mind, we can speak as we go.”

‘You’re damn persistent I’ll give you that, if anything I’ll hear you out for it.’

As she went on with her day she understood the reason for his visit became clear, and where she tripped. At first she thought she brought attention to herself due to her large acquisitions of salt but rather her viability studies. Turns out it is quite noticeable for someone to go around researching prices, buying habits and interests of people despite her roundabout way of doing it made it difficult to catch on. And he had caught wind about the products she was trying to sell, still it is remarkable how he came to realize what she was trying to do with just scattered dots of information.

While they were walking through a particularly crowded market a street rat started to tail them. Rats were those living in slums homeless and without work you could find them in almost any town big or small. They staved off starvation by means of pickpocket, theft and other petty crimes carried out in dark alleyways, this in turn made them the perfect population for slavers to target. Money made from them lined the pockets of many thus not everyone was willing to do much about them. They could be called rats for those reasons alone and the rat infested slums they lived in did them no favors. The said rat in this case was a young boy thin and frail but motivated by a growling stomach he possessed incredible agility for his size. He was waiting for an opportunity to swipe a bag of money they carried. In his mind the man was a fat merchant incapable of doing anything for himself without his manservants by him and the girl was a pampered princess that didn't know the difficulties of life, in other words, easy pickings. After some patience he was rewarded with his chance…

⟨ Instinct ⟩
⟨ Reflexive Reaction ⟩

It all happened so quickly, Alicia’s sense of vibrations were overloaded with all the crowd around her that she didn’t immediately pick up on the oddity of the boy’s actions behind them. However in an instant the kid took the bag her instincts told her something was wrong and before she knew Alice moved her body for her, their back twisting in an unnatural movement to catch the boy’s wrist. Some might say it was a dance move if they had seen the whole action. Screams soon ensued followed by someone yelling “Thief!” and with that guards were alerted.

  • “Let me go! Let go of me! It hurts, let go!”

Alicia was more surprised by Alice's sudden movements and the weird posture they had taken like they were the subject of some artistic statue. A pair of sentries soon pushed through the crowd and arrested the child, with his thin limbs he fought to free himself the best he could but lacked the strength to overcome an adult.

  • “We got you now you snivelling brat, come on back to the rax2Slang for Barracks. with you!”

Correcting her awkward pose Alicia looked straight into the eyes of the merchant beside her. An evaluating gaze with its intents unclear was cast towards him. Even as an expert who closed many deals beforehand, Albertini still couldn’t quite fathom the reason, however it was curious and attentive in nature, as if waiting for his next actions. There was a subtle pressure behind Alicia’s gaze, encouraging him to hurry; he didn’t know what he should do however.

  • “I believe this is yours.” one of the guards returned his bag of coins to him.

But trusting his intuition;

  • “Could you let go of that child?”

Surprise and murmurs spread throughout the crowd that had gathered around them

  • “But, sire, this brat is a thief who-”
  • “I know what he is and what he did, are you questioning my intellect?”
  • “No! Of course not but-”
  • “I have reclaimed my possessions and I see no reason for him to be taken away, let him go.”
  • “As you say…”

As soon as the grip on him slackened the boy darted away pushing through the people and disappeared into an alleyway. As soon as the child was let go, Alicia turned around and started walking away. Albertini, who just noticed that she had gone away, quickly ran after her to catch up before he lost sight.

  • “Wait, miss! You have a bad habit of leaving things behind.”
  • “I don’t like crowds.”
  • “Was that what you wanted…?”
  • “Whatever you might be insinuating?”
  • “That incident with a slum-dweller just now.”
  • “I just wanted to see what you would do.”
  • “I must say, you have quite the intense gaze.”
  • “If you like him so much, why don’t you recruit that child. Seems like he would be a good bodyguard for you.”
  • “Surely you jest!”
  • “Well, did you find an escort for yourself already?”
  • “Er… no.”
  • “Then why not, seems like a good time to start investing now.”
  • “If that's what you suggest. I will send someone to find that child… Can I ask the reason why you chose him in particular?”

In the short time they made contact Soul Echo activated by itself. The slum kid didn’t seem to realize what Alicia was in the chaos. Only seemingly being extremely scared of her. But on the other hand small glimpses of information slid through in that short time. With the most intriguing being his one and only trait:

  • “Nothing… just thought he had some potential…”
  • “Hm…?”
  • “Didn’t you want to talk about something? Let’s get somewhere comfortable. I’m sure you know a place better than me.”

Thinking that he passed her test he was happy to lead Alicia to one of his firms…

Within the castle Kostranald Rosalia’s first letter arrived… It was received by a certain noble who started to quickly panic and burn the letter, stamping it to ashes with his heels. Similar fate awaited the second one sent to the estate of the House Valtima had it not been for a coachman nearing his retirement who received the letter on behalf of the servants of the house, delivering it to his master in person… A retainer quickly rode for Viveria… Closely tailed by an elderly coachman taking his vacation leave…

Good evening ya degenerates, how are you. Bit delayed this week because well the whole week was just tiring drag. Here's a tarantula feeding vidya if you're into that. Otherwise I don't have anything else to add I'm kind of just trying to get through this semester without falling into crippling depression. Oh and I might have to retake few classes before I graduate woooo... fuck. I was gonna do prostitutes - as in introduce them to the story you lewd fuck - but that'll have to wait... for later oh well.