As Tessa explored her new room, seeing all it held in store for her to use, Hei made his way out of the residential district. His hands in his pockets and walking forward with his back straight. An unrivaled smirk filled to the brim with his own brand of smugness and nearly unparalleled confidence deep within the depths of his void-like pupils. Sauntering through the districts at his own pace and giving any woman he deemed worthy of his gaze a wink or blowing them a kiss, just to see them swoon or blush for his own amusement. Finding it especially entertaining when one of them ran or hid themselves away.
However, what he found especially fun to watch were all the glares and disgusted looks from people who could barely hide their fury and hatred for him. Hei enjoyed seeing them squirm. Nearly showing his teeth in an evil grin anytime one of them started to think they’d have an actual shot at taking him down. And if anyone was dumb enough to challenge him, he’d relish the chance to “dance” with a new partner while calling it self-defense. But, on his walk through town today, none dared. It was disappointing, but he was more than happy to let the hatred stew and simmer away like a pot with its lid on. One day soon it would burst and he’d get the chance to make fools of his challengers while wooing his targeted audience all over again.
Hei continued his walk, crossing over into the market district with gazes still trying to stare daggers into his back. But then, he didn’t expect to see Torgrak for a second time today. Torgrak had come to handle a bit of shopping before they left on their mission, taking care of some final preparations before they boarded their carriage in the morning. The two looked each other in the eye, greetings at the ready.
“Well, I can’t say I expected to see you for a second time today~. So what did you forget to buy this time, you half-bearded iron muncher~?”
Torgrak scoffed, “Dinna forget ta buy anythin’, just handlin’ some o' our back end affairs 'afore we leave. Need ta make sure our new student doesn't perish too quickly, ye half-witted lotus eater.”
“Ouch~. That one stung a bit~. Have your years in exile softened your hands so much you can’t properly forge an insult without practice~?”
“For a mudblood, I thought ye'd have more bite than a toothless child. Do ye have a spine at all, or did being bent over every night finally break your back?”
A quiet silence surrounded the two as everyone around them feared a fight breaking out as Hei and Torgrak looked at each other, each one ready to throw another punch at the other. Hei couldn’t help but smile with half of his teeth showing, while Torgrak’s eyes narrowed and beard suggested his own amusement. Instead, Hei pulled out a gold coin and tossed it to Torgrak.
“Alright, you win this round~. But the next one will be mine~.”
“Heh. Save tha dreaming for whoever's pillow yer sleeping on tonight.”
The tension eased as everyone generally around the two released a sigh of relief, and the two began walking side by side in the same direction. The citizens of Faethun were always kept on edge whenever Hei and Torgrak met and began their verbal jousting. Always worrying that one of the two might say something out of line and cause a battle comparable to a demonic invasion occurring one day. The best days in Faethun always being the ones where those two are never in it. As the two walked further into the market district, Hei and Torgrak shared to each other what it is they were each doing.
“So, where are you headed first~? Whenever you’re in the market, you’re never here for just one thing~.”
“I commissioned Morvir for some 'special parts' for me machine. Had them special ordered three missions back. Shou' be done by now.”
Hei put a hand to his chin, smiling as he thought of the Tiefling, “Morvir hmm~? If only that woman would allow me to show her my own passionate fires~. The dance of flames we’d make would make even your stone heart chip~.”
Torgrak couldn’t help but scoff, “Got tha hots for one o' tha few women smart enough ta actually say ‘no’ ta ye?”
“What can I say~? Her ‘no’s’ only make me want to hear her finally say ‘yes’~.”
What control over his urge to laugh quickly crumbled as Torgrak let out a hearty laugh from the depths of his belly, “Hoho, tha'ss gonna keep me gut split for a week!”
“If I can make even a genderless elemental into a progenitress of my next of kin, I will find a way into Morvir’s heart~.”
“Wasn't that tha day ye were also exiled from tha Kingdom o' Eternal Flames?”
“Do either of us know the definition of ‘exiled’~?”
“Heh, fair enough.”
Clearing his throat, Torgrak asked where Hei was headed off to at this time of day. It was rare to see Hei not flirting with some random woman in the corner of a cafe, library, Adventurers’ Guild’s hall, fancy restaurant, cheap restaurant, fountain, park, guard station, college, or any other place Hei could find someone he deemed “worthy of his attention”.
“So, finally give in ta a pining woman's heartfelt letter ta return ta her bedside? Or did your heart grow a size an' yer actually making good on one o' your 'promises'?”
“Close, but no~. Some ‘friends’ of mine in the red-light district need refreshing, so I’m just being paid to help them ‘unwind’ a bit~. Talents like mine are never spent requesting, only requested~”
“Heh, guess even professionals require an expert's 'touch'. Anyways, how is Tessa’s training going? Did she make the full duration of the timer?”
“Do you really think someone trying to swim upstream would be successful on their first attempt~? She did, however, make it half-way before running out of energy. It’s farther than I expected her to reach today.”
“Seems she learned something at that academy she attended.”
“True, but it looks as though she was indoctrinated into following Aeon and was taught to use light-magic without it being her actual blessing. Force-types are rare and lack any real weaknesses, but it also means they have the most difficulty using the four base elements.”
“I may not understand tha specifics o' magix an' spells, but isn't it harder ta use light spells for anyone born with an elemental blessing?”
“Unless connected to a source of light, dark, or null energy, one cannot normally use them. In Tessa’s case, she’s a cleric connected to Aeon. Thus allowing her to draw light energy for her spells. I’m the same, but with darkness. The training I’m having her go through is much like tuning a lute to perfection string by string.”
“Got an estimate on when she can begin becoming one o' us?”
“At the moment? No. She’ll need to be able to both maintain and control at least three orbs of light on her own before she can even begin on that road, let alone even be considered actually useful to us.”
“'En shou' we change ta tha 'reaper-method'? It wou' make her grow considerably faster. Testing it on those twin sons o' yours confirmed its effectiveness.”
“She’s still far too timid for it to work. Even if she did suddenly become capable of killing, her spells aren’t powerful enough to inflict or defend against any significant damage. We could try to kill things in front of her until she becomes numb to it, but that could yield unpredictable results and completely backfire.”
Torgrak scratched his chin for a moment, but nodded in agreement with Hei’s assessment.
“So when do ye think tha lass will be able ta benefit from it?”
Hei leaned his head back, staring at the sky for a moment. Tilting his head from side to side, he thought about his young student. Giving serious thought as to when they could begin accelerating her growth. Right now Tessa is akin to that of a seed developing its roots, so that was still much more to be done before they could really think about seeing true progress.
“The moment she kills anything will be the same moment we can implement it. Whether she kills out of self-defense or on purpose doesn’t matter. Then we can start accelerating things.”
“Aye, let's not break her again after she was repaired not too long ago.”
While the two of them talked, soon enough they found themselves before Morvir’s smithy: The Black Flame Forge. Torgrak, before going off to take care of business, finished their conversation.
“We'll need ta push tha wee lass so she can adapt ta fighting quickly. Actual combat wou' do that tha fastest, but I'll leave that up ta yer discretion.”
Hei smirked, “I’ll make use of the extermination mission to teach her how to fight properly. She needs to not only learn how to attack, but also how to defend and position effectively to be as useful as she can in every battle.”
Continuing on without Torgrak, Hei continued his stroll through the market district. Leaving Torgrak to his own devices and disappeared amongst the people moving to and fro. At the same time, Torgrak opened the door to The Black Flame Forge. At the top of the door, a small bell rang out from the door’s upper right corner hitting it. Signalling the appearance of a customer to anyone nearby. Standing inside the shop, Torgrak couldn’t resist taking in a large breath to be reminded of the joys of a forge. Yet-forged steel slowly oxidized in the back as a bellows kept the flames roaring and ready to create another piece of metallic art.
“This place feels just like me second home from so long ago.”
From the back of the forge emerged a tiefling woman. Her skin and horns were the color of fresh charcoal with runic, crimson tattoos running down from her shoulders to her elbows. A long-since-healed battle scar on her left cheek accompanied by more crimson markings just below her eyes and bottom lip. Her hair was short, but as red as blood, and her eyes were like that of well cut citrine. The sleeves of her shirt had long since been torn off, either intentionally or not, but it had a black and fluffy collar that went around her neck and a hood that rested just behind her short horns.
“There are no homes for someone like you to ever return to, Torgrak.”
The dwarf couldn’t help but laugh. It was true, but he enjoyed the fact nonetheless.
“Such fond memories o' all tha places I either burned down or were chased out o'. Anyways! I'm here ta check on me order, Morvir.”
Morvir growled under her breath before getting behind the counter of her business and took out a small wooden crate. She gave Torgrak a moment to inspect the pieces, and he couldn’t be more pleased with the superb quality of each one. Picking out pieces seemingly at random and inspecting each one closely.
“Never ask me to make something for you ever again. I don’t want to be a part of your contraptions or weird machines. Get out of my shop once you’ve paid.”
Torgrak stopped fiddling with the pieces, satisfied with their quality. Every last one had been hand-forged to near perfection with no visible errors anywhere. They hadn’t received any polish, but that wasn’t necessary to Torgrak.
“Well-made, as usual.” Torgrak pulled out a hefty sack of coins, resting it on the counter. “Here’s tha second half o' me payment.”
“Good. Now get out.”
“Heh, threaten me all ye want but we both know I’m your most frequent customer. Wi'out me, ye wou' never be able ta afford keeping your smithy open.”
“I get plenty of other customers.”
“Do ye mean ‘customers’, or ‘browsers’? We both know you’re too skilled for your own good. Even yer worst-made iron daggers be too expensive for tha average adventurer no matter how hard ye try ta lower yer standards.”
Torgrak was right and he knew it, heartily laughing Morvir’s threat away. She could only slam her fist on the table, breaking the hard and lacquered wood.
“Get out before I throw you out!”
Torgrak paused his laughter for a moment, but then only continued louder. Never unable to find Morvir’s threats amusing. Eventually, his laughing stopped and he put the wooden box of parts into his bag and made his way to the door. As he cracked it open, the bell dinging again, he couldn’t help but get one last word in.
“I’m looking forward ta our next transaction.”
“Yeah and I’m not.”
Torgrak kept on laughing for a bit longer as he took his leave, the door ringing the bell one more time as it shut behind him. With his business with Morvir concluded for the time being, he began making his way to his second stop. Walking along the streets, he kept an eye out for a darker section in the marketplace. Once he’d found it, Torgrak broke off from the rest of the market and made his way into the shadows. Making his way into Faethun’s underbelly.
The shadows twisted downwards in a large spiral until he reached a locked grate that kept the sewers protected. Taking out a key from his pocket, Torgrak inserted it into the lock and unlocked the passageway. Pushing it open and stepping into the darkness of the sewers below while the grate locked itself behind him. As he moved forward, turning one corner after another in a wretched smelling labyrinth, Torgrak eventually found a part where the darkness was broken by a single lamp set just outside a very crudely made portcullis.
Having found the entrance, Torgrak passed through it and was finally in the true underground of Faethun. The smell was no longer present with magic runes carved into the walkways and walls to make it easier to do business in such a place. The walkways were bridged together with rusty nails and broken boards while several different black markets had their stalls open and ready for business. But he wasn’t here for those, instead he kept on walking. Passing stall after stall and giving every hooded figure, brute, pickpocket, assassin and more a deathly glare to keep them out of the way.
Soon enough, Torgrak stopped at one particular door. It was a thick, wooden door with black iron reinforcements and a closed eye at the top. Giving it a couple hits with his fist, Torgrak woke the door up. The eye shot open and looked down at the dwarf.
“Who dares hit me.”
“Open up, or wou' ye prefer I make an ‘explosive entrance’ instead?”
The door's tone quickly changed from fury to fear, panicking as he recognized who it was now, “Y-yes, yes! Of course! Just a moment.” A loud SHINK could be heard from the side of the door before it swung open. “Welcome back to Hogs Hole, Torgrak.”
Inside was a tavern, but much less raucous than any up on the surface. Everyone inside spoke in hushed tones and whispers. Bottles of all kinds of drinks lined the back of the bar with sickly colored glass and labels on each one. Torgrak entered and began looking for someone. Walking past everything, Torgrak found a seat at a table across from a dark robed figure who had two disgustingly green ears and a long nose with a wart on the left side. The creature wasn’t very big, but Torgrak was happy to speak with one of his minions.
“Good ta see ye again, Kegs.”
“An’ same ta’ you, Boss.”
Torgrak pulled the wooden box filled with metal parts out, setting it on the table and pushing it over to Kegs. With his green fingers and yellowed nails, Kegs inspected the parts to see what they were for.
“These be tha replacement parts, I'm sure ye an' tha crew know what ta do.”
The goblin let out a deep, raspy chuckle, “Aye, we’ll have it up and operational by tomorrow. The Crew’ll be excited to have orders again. Where shoul’ we have it pointed, Boss?”
“Hei an' I be expecting a large target ta be appearing in crimsonvale soon. We'll be headed there tomorrow, along with our new student.”
“Well, tha’ss a surprise. Our bosses gots a student now?”
“I'll explain tha plan regarding 'her' later.”
“Understood, Boss.” Kegs dragged the box towards him, sliding it under his cloak and having it disappear. “I’ll get tha Crew ta have it ready by dawn. They been restless with only bein’ able ta kill tha local wildlife.”
Torgrak then pulled out some rather large sacks from his back, each one tightly sealed at the top. Handing them over the same way, Kegs took each one and they all disappeared under his cloak.
“Thank you for tha resupply, Boss. Be there any prototypes you’d like ‘disposed of’?”
“They're in tha bag with tha ammunition.”
Kegs chuckled again, “Tha boys will have some fun testin’ them out. Thank you, Boss.” He got up and off his chair, giving Torgrak a surprisingly proper bow for such a gangly creature. “I’ll be on ma way now.”
Kegs headed deeper into the shadows of Hogs Hole and seemingly disappeared. But with his business here done, Torgrak took his leave as well. Making his way out the way he came in, he left Hogs Hole, the black market, and the sewers, returning to the surface as the sunlight shined down and reflected off his bald head. There was one more stop he had to make, and Torgrak was looking forward to visiting his favorite shop again. Quickly, he found his way to a rather odd-looking shop. The sign hanging from the side of the store reading: Pi Wryte’s Pyrites, Playwrights, Pirates*, and Pie Weights - *Pirates severely limited.
Every time he saw the sign, Torgrak couldn’t help but at least snicker to himself. Taking a hold of the door’s handle, he entered the shop. A bell going off at his entrance as an older and white-haired gnome quickly greeted the old dwarf.
“Well, well, well, my favorite customer returns.”
“Aye, an' good ta see ye again Pi Wryte as well.”
The gnome had short but crazy white hair that stood on end, all of it kept back by a pair of goggles just above his forehead. His eyebrows were thick, only rivaled by his mustache and goatee. The ends of every bit of the hair on his head seemed slightly singed with bits of soot clinging on to them.
“What can I get ya’ for this time?”
“Need ta restock me healin’ potions an' some specialty items.”
“Ar’right! List ‘em off an’ I’ll toss ‘em yer way!”
“I need two number nines, a number nine large, a number six with extra dip, a number seven, two number forty-fives one with cheese, an' a large fizzy.”
“Need fries with that?”
“Ar’right...so it’ll be ‘two number nines, a number nine large, a number six with extra dip, a number seven, two number forty-fives one with cheese, an' a large fizzy’. That everythin’?”
“And...a grapplin’ hook.”
“With special sauce?”
“Ye know me so well.”
“Come back tomorrow mornin’ and it'll all be good to go, Tor.”
“Good to hear it.”
With that, Torgrak dropped a sack of coins off at the counter as proper payment for Pi Wryte’s services. Thus concluding his errands for the day, Torgrak left and would spend the rest of his day performing maintenance and some of his own alchemical preparations before they leave the following day.