There were so many things to keep tabs on, so many things to account for. As Wisdom of the democratic city of Parakos, Yugen allegedly represented a standard of excellence unmatched by all but the most elite wisdoms in Arkhera. Despite this, it felt like his set of notes were insufficient. It was merely a to-do list, but far too vague, too undetailed.

So far, the list read thus:

Figure out what’s happened to Alys, Robert Gemfire, and Eye #3.
Ask the Eyes for an update regarding Lady Marissa Gemfire’s demands
Query King Landon about the Verawor taxation situation, offer support (?)
Renegotiate trade terms with the Saltclaws (again)
Ask Lady Sharkas about a peace summit with the Sandsparks
Ask Lady Sharkas about fostering Amerei Gemcutter
Ask Lady Marissa Gemfire about fostering Amerei Gemcutter
Offer Myrtle Gemcutter a good word for a royally-backed legitimisation
Ask Exar about training Amerei Gemcutter
Give Eye #44 a pay-rise for her diligence and coping with transition
Remember El’kha’s naming day – Presents? Buy a sword. What kind?
Ask Eye #78 out for drinks when convenient.

Despite its focus on minutia, it never felt like enough. There were too many matters in Arkhera that swirled around Parakos and never deigned to involve the city, but Yugen wasn’t allowed to accept that. After all, Parakos was the first city of Arkhera to ever exist, it aught to have been perpetually relevant. Wisdom Yugen stared at his to-do list, his eyes burning into the paper so intently that the immediate surroundings melted like ice-silk in the desert sun.

“Boss!” a woman’s voice broke in, make Yugen jump and remind himself that he was so much as wearing clothes.

The scholar rubbed his head and felt the egal that kept his keffiyeh in place, he ran his fingers along his desk and took in the sorry state of his room. While he kept to his daily writing targets each day and his bookshelves were impeccably organised, previously-worn clothes were still on the floor, his windows were still fogged over by an unholy amalgam of dust and mildew, and old ink bottles still lied around undisposed of.

Standing before him was a woman wearing a full-body veil, black and loose, only revealing a stray strand of brown hair and a pair of green-brown eyes marked with faint crow’s feet. In her hands was a rolled-up piece of paper; she was poised, professional, objective, but the moment she noticed Yugen’s bewilderment with reality, she softened her posture.

“…was this a bad time? S-sorry, you must have been busy, it’s all right, I can come at a better time, I’m so sorry…”

Wisdom Yugen’s mind began to tune the woman out; she often berated herself excessively, something he’d once tried to discourage but had since given up on curbing. She was Eye Forty-Four, one of his many spies and a credit to his workforce. She had served Yugen’s predecessor and mentor, Vardyn, faithfully, and transitioned to serving Yugen with an eagerness and adaptability few had matched.

“…I’ll go, that’s it, I’ll go, I’m sorry for disturbing you…” the woman continued.

Yugen took advantage of her momentary trailing and raised his hand. “It’s all right, Forty-Four, really. You’re fine, I just let my head get in the clouds. You know me, always off and thinking…”

“Yes… always thinking,” Forty-Four said with a sigh, before abruptly animating herself again. “I’ll, um, leave this letter with you. Unless you want me to clean up your ink-pots? I could take your clothes to the washer-women if you like!”

Yugen laughed a little. “Leaving the letter is fine, Forty-Four. You’re not my servant and you don’t have to be. It’s my poor planning that has led to this, no-one else’s.”

Forty-Four stood still for a moment, then brushed her outfit down for an undiscernible reason. It was then, and only then, that she left the letter on his desk. She loomed over Yugen’s notes as she did so, forcing the wisdom to inelegantly slam his hand over the lower half of the contents.

“Ah ah, you’re getting too good at your job there, Forty-Four. You’re supposed to spy on others, not me!”

“It was just instinct, boss. Sorry.”

Yugen gave her an uneasy smile. “Well… it’s all right. Dismissed, Eye Forty-Four.”

Forty-Four’s eyes narrowed for a moment, as if sceptical, before being obscured by the back of her head as she walked out of the room. Wisdom Yugen had found a brilliant method of frightening off women; smiling. While he had suspicions that on some technical level he was attractive, that he had a smooth-skinned Ameristian sensibility to his face, he was convinced his smiles were cursed by the Wanderers themselves judging from how people responded to them.

Now free of anchors to the untidy room around him, Yugen inspected the seal on the letter. It was on white wax, stamped with an octagonal gem shape. Gemfire by symbol, yet the proof would be in the contents.

To Lady Sharkas of Parakos,

Thank you for sending your thoughtful letter regarding your regret for what’s happened between Alys and Robert. It is an unfortunate incident and it is true that we still feel deeply wronged by the Daemonwings for what has happened, yet I’m sure that we can discuss matters between us in a peaceful matter and come to an agreement on appropriate reparations.

Please, feel free to send Wisdom Yugen to the Rainbow Fort. He shall be treated with respect and kindness, safe in the Rainbow Fort until an adequate arrangement has been made. Any supporting information regarding Robert’s whereabouts should be brought with him on the day of his visit.

Kindest regards,

Lady Marissa Gemfire.

Yugen couldn’t help but chuckle. This letter was far too carefully-worded, far too diplomatic to ever be penned by Marissa Gemfire. The script was similar, so it was almost certainly a person who had learnt to write based on Lady Gemfire’s handwriting. Amerei was a rambunctious troublemaker and too young to write such a neat letter, so the obvious conclusion was that her eldest bastard, Myrtle, had written the letter.

If that line of thought was correct, then the eldest Gemfire bastard was scarily competent. There were obvious threats of capturing weaved into the script, yet nothing that could be presented to the King as absolute proof of rearing for warfare, so Yugen had no choice but to follow through with the visit, regardless of the Gemfires’ ultimate intentions.

“Outfoxed by a teenage girl,” Yugen said to himself with a chuckle. “Well, almost.”

Marissa Gemfire, the lady of the city, was the weak link here. If she was too incompetent to either write her own letters or hire a wisdom who would do it for her, then it would be trivial to talk circles around her. Surely Myrtle would not be representing her mother to diplomats from beyond the Rainbow Fort as well. Even if she was, Yugen would be able to soften the girl with promises of legitimisation; every person had a price, it was simply the way of the world.

For some reason, the voice of Wisdom Vardyn echoed in Yugen’s head.

“Yugen, you must see pitfalls all around you, you must dodge and duck and dip and dive. But never forget that under it all, people are mostly good.”

What a naïve soul Vardyn was. Yugen’s heart always felt heavy when his old mentor came to mind. His entries in the Parakosi Chronicle, a massive history book that Yugen filled in daily, as had every single Wisdom of Parakos since the founding of the city, were all full of wishful thinking and sentimentality. In nostalgia, Yugen flipped back to his old friend’s account of Yukishima.

Staying in Wrenfall, Yukishima has been an enlightening experience. Under Empress Vorya, even white elves such as myself have been given a chance to be fully part of the citizenry of Wrenfall. I would emphatically insist that now the Soltelle Empire is free of the shackles of slavery, that we here in Arkhera would benefit from willingly joining the empire.

Consider the possibilities, the academic opportunities, the technological achievements that could be wrought with the help of the Wrenfall Academy and the likes of our gnomish families! Together, Arkhera and Yukishima hand in hand, we would be unstoppable. The only reason we should fear joining the Soltelle Empire is for fear’s own sake. I fully intend to return to Yukishima, though next time I should very much like to visit the wild side free from Soltelle influence; to see the last untouched remnants of native Yukishiman culture in all its glory!

As a wisdom, I am truly blessed. I have been given an opportunity to gather the knowledge of this world, and even better, I’m getting paid for it! What in the world is there to lose?

As it turned out, Vardyn had one thing to lose; his life. It was a predictable end to the tale, to be sure. Four years had passed since the good Wisdom Vardyn was officially declared dead and Novice Yugen ascended to replace him. He’d visited Yukishima for a second time, just as he said he would, and for six months after his expected return to Parakos, Yugen and the Parakosi court held their breaths, idly hoping the pudgy high elven man would return, wild-eyed and enthusiastic as ever.

“I hope you saw some wonderful things before you passed on, friend…” Yugen said to the letters on the page, brushing his fingertips on the paper.

His to-do list edged into focus from the corner of his eye. The tasks weren’t about to do themselves. Yugen sighed to himself and stood himself up. He was currently in his undershirt and his keffiyeh, but to be a full and complete wisdom in front of Lady Sharkas, he had to have his jacket.

It was a loose-fitting affair brought into reality via complete contempt for all things sea-dwelling and hard-shelled. Purple for the most part, the only reasonably-priced parts of the garments were still a bright crimson, making the shapes of four daemonic wings to mark where the outfit opened at the front.

Yugen checked himself in his speckled mirror and poked at where his once-visible cheekbones resided amidst the roundness, squeezing out a few pimples and rubbing ointment on the resultant bleeding pores. He lifted his lips and lowered his brow at his overbite despite knowing it served no purpose, then left his room with his to-do list in hand.

His tower was an ancient building, yet it was constantly being renovated. The stairway down to the exit was a hybrid of old sandstone and limestone mixed with the occasional section rebuilt in granite brought from the Scorchpeaks, yet the motheaten interior study on the lowest floor was relatively untouched. Opposite said study was the way out into Parakos at large.

The city was a beautiful testament to orcish brilliance. While elven scholars such as Erwyn Yagaska and excessive pessimists such as Melancholy would berate orcs, claiming that they were innately foolish and brutish, Parakos stood steady and unyielding as a rebuttal.

The buildings were mostly limestone and sandstone, with gargoyles carved into the designs, yet they never rose particularly high, save for the wisdom’s tower he’d just left and the watchtowers. They were instead compact, steady, practical, made to withstand the dry, temperate desert winds of north-western Arkhera. Naturally, as Arkhera became more than a one-city nation, the less-than-ideal building materials got swapped out for granite and basalt, yet the orcish architectural philosophy remained constant throughout; much like orcs themselves, they were wide, heavyset, and hard to bring down.

Since Parakos’s initial building, Arkheran diversity had increased. Yugen himself was a human, as were many of the residents of Parakos he was passing in the streets, as well green-skinned, diminutive goblins, perching on precarious ledges or otherwise skulking about, high and dark elves alike walking alongside orcs with pride, and one occasion, he even saw a tall, willowy spellbinder.

The place Yugen was headed for was Daemonwing Manse, the manor reserved for the Lord or Lady of Parakos. It was marked by its decayed, wind-erased gargoyles, its regularly-replenished red banners depicting four purple daemonic wings, and a set of large, old orcish runes above its door whose meaning had been lost to time. Two scimitar-wielding soldiers guarded the entrance, wearing light white garments that were easy to move in.

“You after Lady Sharkas, wisdom?” a guard with a black beard asked.

“Naturally. Is she in the manse?”

“Of course, my friend,” he said. “Come on in.”

Yugen couldn’t help but smirk as the two sword-wielding men, muscular, hard workers their entire lives, stepped aside and inclined their heads as Yugen walked into their territory. His father had claimed that real men didn’t read, that they had to train in the sword, yet somehow, he’d got away with being ‘false’ just fine.

Daemonwing Manse must have been the setting standard for Arkheran castles’ interior design, as every castle Yugen had visited in his career as a diplomat had the same amount of hollow boasting and hoarding. Relics and tapestries of achievements no doubt documented in the oldest, crustiest parts of the Parakosi Chronicle dotted the hallways’ walls and desks, and empty room after empty room was passed before Yugen reached his destination; the council chamber.

It was a relatively modest room with a singular large, circular table made to seat eight orcs, but with human-sized chairs it would likely fit fifteen at a push. Two old orcs, large, tusked and copper-skinned, were sitting at it, each buried in a book of some sort. One was a man, muscular despite his bushy beard and advanced age, using a monocle dwarfed by his massive eye socket, and the other was a gracelessly aged woman with a single intact tusk and a wide, form-obscuring red-and-purple cloak.

The latter, Lady Sharkas, lowered her book and gave Yugen a wry grin. “What’s wrong, wisdom? Decided to do your job for once?”

Yugen involuntarily recoiled at the jab, almost dropping his to-do list. “Er, yes, I, well, you see, my lady, the Gemfires got back to us regarding the… reparations. As expected, they want me to personally visit them, which enables me to make our next step.”

The orcess’s watery old eyes shut with a sly slowness. “Our next step. You act like I have any role to play in that personal plan of yours.”

“Its benefits will cascade to you as well!” Yugen insisted. “I get to rescue a neglected child from her mother, I get to raise a child without the… complications of finding a wife, depending on her skills, Exar or El’kha could get a student, our relationship with the Gemfires could ease up after…”

“After Alys,” Sharkas butted in. “After your last bold idea to unite us and the Gemfires.”

“That… my ideas are usually well-conceived,” Yugen stammered. “It’s just… it’s that…”

The man, Lord Consort Sor’gall, cleared his throat and spoke to Lady Sharkas. “In fairness, Onetooth, Yugen’s mostly been a safe bet. It was only Alys which really made things go wrong.”

Sharkas tapped her massive fingers on the table. “Yugen rarely makes mistakes, but when he does, I pay for them forever. Well, if you want to go through with your fostering idea for the Gemcutter girl, you must remember that her dying on us isn’t an option. Making Marissa Gemfire’s cousin disappear was one thing, Yugen, but if you make her daughter disappear too, we may as well borrow a sword from El’kha and go out with some elven honour ahead of time. Do you understand?”

Yugen swallowed. It was true that whenever he made mistakes, things became catastrophic. Whenever there weren’t variables under his control, it would spiral away from him and become a chaotic mess. Alys was a lonely woman at heart, she was obsessive and needy, she was his novice and a skilled interrogator. Robert Gemfire was knightly and had his own cadet keep, Alys would have had a far better life with him than as a Master Torturer.

It did not occur to Yugen that Alys would act against her own best interests. Letters from both the Rainbow Fort and Parakos were no longer answered when sent to the Gemfire Keep, and Yugen had even sent one of the most experienced Eyes in his organisation, Eye Three, to investigate, but no information had returned.

“I… I understand. I don’t intend to anger the Gemfires any further.”

“I don’t imagine you intended to anger them last time!” Sharkas remarked. “Speaking of the Alys situation, any luck? Has Eye Three even sent word or a distress message of some sort?”

“…not that I know of.”

Sharkas grunted. “I always knew that girl would be a thorn in our side… and Bookworm, don’t you dare stand up for Yugen again.”

Sor’gall opened his palm out in hen-pecked acceptance. “Wasn’t going to, Onetooth.”

“So, is that all? Should I be expecting a hostage situation?”

“If the worst of the worst happens, my lady,” Yugen admitted. “I have the fullest faith that in the event of my premature demise, another academic will rise up to replace me.”

“Most people aren’t so eager to point out their disposability,” Sharkas said with a smirk. “You should watch yourself, Yugen. Vardyn may have died of lack of foresight, but you’re going to die of over-planning.”

Yugen inclined his head. “I would also request that you allow Master Archer Exar to accompany me to the Rainbow Fort, should he be free.”

Sharkas looked at Yugen as if he was illiterate. “Come, wisdom, you’re seriously asking me for permission at this point? Exar isn’t Master Archer because he’s good at teaching, he’s just good at archery itself. Literally anyone in the school of archery would be able to improve upon his… unique tuition.”

The wisdom uneasily backed towards the room’s exit and held up his hands. “Very well, my lady, sorry for asking such a trivial question. I’ll… I’ll take my leave.”

“Thank you, wisdom.”

With that, the wisdom stumbled through the halls of Daemonwing Manse, his ego successfully eviscerated. It stung in a way no academic should have allowed for; criticism was the source of enlightenment, and nothing Lady Sharkas had said was wrong. Vardyn was an adamant pursuer of the truth, yet it seemed Yugen spent his time running from it.

As he left what was likely Arkhera’s first ever manor, he made his way towards the city dojo. This building was likely the second ever large building in Arkhera, a massive sandstone-wrought complex segmented into various disciplines. For a while it had only trained students in swordplay and ranged weaponry, abandoned ancient dojos had since been retrofitted to be suitable for two major magical schools; one in pyromancy and the other in cryomancy.

The school of archery was ruled with an iron fist by Master Archer Exar, who Yugen rushed to visit. He was a skinny dark elven man with a gaunt face and pinched features, who upon Yugen’s entrance to his dojo was seen lining up a shot towards an unfortunate student with a persimmon balancing on his head. He’d just drawn, but steadily eased his bowstring back to a relaxed state instead of loosing his arrow.

“Fuck’s sake, Yugen! You distracted me when I was gonna make my bloody shot! You want me to fucking kill this brat?”

The boy was quivering, mouthing incoherent apologies as other students chuckled underneath their breaths. Exar grunted, lined up his shot again, and unceremoniously loosed the arrow across the room and through the persimmon, missing his student’s head by a hair’s breadth.

“Heh. Doubt my skill now, kid?” Exar asked.

“N-no… no, Master Archer.”

“That’s right, from now on you gotta call me that all that time. You got that, Argax? Master Archer, and you gotta say it proper, ‘cause I’m important.”

“Got it, Master Archer.”

Exar wore his bow around his body then clapped his hands. “Right, the rest of you sorry fucks. Shoot some real targets, get your shit together. If none of you hit the centre of a target, then you’re all gonna buy me rice wine and I’m gonna pour every single glass on the floor ‘cause I fucking can.”

Yugen did well to suppress himself most of the time, but Exar’s antics inspired an involuntary eye-roll. The only indication of the elf’s humble origins came from his base language; his arrogance matched or exceeded any noble. After his students got back to drilling with their circular targets, the Master Archer looked to Yugen.

“Right, fuckhead, what do you want?”

“I’m to visit the Rainbow Fort, and remember how I mentioned wanting to take that half-elven child of Lady Gemfire’s home? Amerei? Well, I was thinking that archery would be a good outlet for her. Would you like to visit a potential high-profile future student with me?”

Exar barked out a laugh. “You’ve gotta be fucking kidding. Me, go all the way to the Rainbow Fort so I can meet some girl who’s gonna be just like every other moron who doesn’t know a notch from a shaft?”

“There are lots of prostitutes in the Rainbow Fort,” Yugen pointed out.

“Huh? Are you talking classy ones, escorts and stuff?”

Yugen chuckled. It seemed that Exar had somehow pushed out every piece of knowledge in his head to make room for his obsession with archery, because to Yugen it was second instinct that the Rainbow Fort was the prostitution capital of Arkhera.

“Oh yes, every kind. Except the younger ones, the Rainbow Fort has regulations, you know.”

“Fuck you, Yugen,” Exar muttered. “So… uh, basically, what you’re saying is do I want to go on a vacation to the Rainbow Fort for a couple of days?”

“Yes, and perhaps be there as some clout for if things go wrong. After all, they’re not likely to take me hostage if I’m protected by the man who never misses, right?”

Exar’s chest swelled with ego. “Oh, they’d be scared shitless! You know what, yeah, this is a good idea! When you setting off?”

“Tomorrow morning. Meet me at the northeast gate?”

“Sure, uh, buddy,” the dark elf said. “But uh, don’t tell El’kha I went along with this shit willingly, she’ll think I’m being all nice and inverted and shit.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t dream of it. You were dragged kicking and screaming,” Yugen said with a smirk. “Well then, I’m sure you have more valuable lessons to give to your students. See you tomorrow, Exar.”

The dark elf turned to say something to Yugen as he left but gave up part-way through his attempt. With that, Yugen decided to do some market research for some of his more personal items on his to-do list. The first involved going to the neighbouring dojo, where Swordmaster El’kha resided.

She was a high elven woman who wore her long white hair back in a ponytail. She had crystal-blue eyes and a manly gait about her, wearing a practical tunic and trouser combination like any swordsman would, and stood tall as she oversaw her group’s sparring session.

“Alvyn, if you never aggress, you’ll always be on the defensive, Pluteryn, if I see you flinch again I’ll spar you myself until you stop, Vilix, your back leg’s way off, and Gilbert… you let me distract you again, heheh.”

Yugen almost felt bad interrupting the woman, but it was for a worthwhile cause. He clasped his hands together and smiled wholeheartedly. “So, my grand spy network has informed me of something that’s taken me off guard… I hear it’s someone’s naming day in a couple of weeks!”

El’kha laughed. “Oh, good to see you’re using ‘em for work purposes. You here to ask me what present I want?”

“Well… I predict you’ll want another sword, but it’s worth asking anyway.”

“Wow, they don’t call you wisdom for nothing!” the high elf remarked, her voice dripping with sardonicism. “All right, you… you probably want to know which historical replicas I have already, right?”

“Ideally, yes.”

“Well, I have Kel’kar Sinhelios’s, the Boathis sword, Desire, Eternity, Ghosthilt, honestly, I’m running out of elven models to collect, so how about you get me one from outside my comfort zone? A human one, maybe one from orcish history or something?”

Yugen’s eyes widened. An idea had come to him; he’d commission a grand orcish sword lined with quicksilver as an homage to the ancestral sword of the Peachvale Horde, possibly the oldest extant ancestral sword in Arkhera. It would be commissioned tonight and made to be delivered to El’kha’s house on the day. It was perfect.

“I think I have something,” he said. “Thank you for your time, El’kha. Drinks at the Tentacle later tonight?”

“All right then. See you there.”

The pair of them bumped their fists together and Yugen set off without a further word. Another item had been crossed off the list, but here came the unpredictable factor. Yugen had promised himself to ask Eye Seventy-Eight out for drinks, but for some reason, he was always somewhat arrested by the prospect.

The Eyes that weren’t on spy missions but were on work hours usually waited on standby in the study in the wisdom’s tower, tending to the pigeons and drinking herbal teas. When Yugen returned to the study, true to form, Seventy-Eight and Sixty-Six were both waiting around in their identity-hiding clothing.

The former was a shapely woman, a fact not remotely concealed by her niqab, while the latter was a man who hid his face with a well-wrapped keffiyeh and his body with a loose gown. Seventy-Eight was wittering away, while Sixty-Six was patiently lifting his wrappings to sip his tea every now and then.

“So basically, I think what Renewalism should really be about is- oh, hey, Yugen!”

“That’s Wisdom Yugen to you,” Yugen replied, chuckling without any real stimulus.

“Seems like you have a job for me! Go on, big boss man. Tell me what to do,” she said with a laugh. “Sorry, was that too much like Forty-Four for your liking?”

Yugen didn’t catch her meaning. There was certainly an element of rivalry amongst the Eyes, but despite being in charge, Yugen hadn’t concerned himself with the ins and outs of it all. He wasn’t sure what grudge Seventy-Eight could have had against a model employee like Forty-Four, but if there was anything there, Yugen would need to be mindful of any missions involving them working together.

“What’s wrong with Forty-Four?”

“Oh, nothing, she just likes calling you boss a lot, doesn’t she?” she said. “Sixty-Six and I were just talking about the finer points of religion, weren’t we?”

Sixty-Six shrugged his shoulders, and the brown-eyed woman shook her head. “Honestly, he talked my ear off before, you wouldn’t believe it.”

“You’re right. I wouldn’t,” Yugen deadpanned.

“Psh, shut up, you!” Seventy-Eight said. “So, do you have a job for me, or is this visit just for my company?”

All Yugen needed to do was tell the truth. It was easy; he’d just asked El’kha to do the same. It was fine. She was his employee, it was nothing suspicious where it currently stood, a little nepotistic at worst.

Yugen shook his head. It was thoroughly unprofessional. He should have thought about this for more than the moment it took him to write the note. It was the fruit of his impulses, and impulses were what killed Vardyn. Yet here he was, committed to the unthinkable. He had to do something.

“I was wondering if you’d like to accompany me to the Rainbow Fort tomorrow,” he spluttered. “I know it’s not a working day for you, but… er… if you’re not doing anything…”

“Yeah, sorry, I’ve got things to do tomorrow. I know you understand…”

“…yes. Sorry,” Yugen said in an undertone.

“Why are you apologising?” Seventy-Eight asked.

Yugen was falling apart. His diplomatic training was worthless if this was the best he could manage. Perhaps his father was right; he was hardly a man if he could let things like this faze him. It was probably for the best, anyway. No apologies were in order.

“I’m not sure. Reflex, most likely.”

“…I see. Well, have fun up there! If you sleep with any of those legendary escorts up there, I want details! Juicy details, all the details!”

“As expected of a professional spy,” Yugen said, hoping it was a convincing recovery.

“Oops! Got me!” Seventy-Eight teased. “Next time I’ll catch you off-guard!”

“I’m never off-guard,” Yugen boasted.

Sixty-Six opened his mouth to say something, but Seventy-Eight burst into tittering laughter before he could make a sound. “You sound as convincing as a marionette play!”

“Yes, yes. Anyway, that will be all, Seventy-Eight. Be sure not to let those loose lips of Sixty-Six’s bleed information to any enemy spies!”

Seventy-Eight smirked, and Sixty-Six gave an indignant huff as he folded his arms. That left one more thing to do before his day ended. Thankfully, there was a woman here who could help him towards that end.

“Say, Seventy-Eight, where’s Forty-Four?”

“I… think she’s tidying your room for you. She seemed a little all over the place, bringing cleaning materials up and everything.”

Yugen scratched beneath his keffiyeh. “Odd… well, I’ll check if she’s still there. Thank you again, Seventy-Eight!”

“No problem,” the woman said, before prodding the man she was sitting with. “Hey, stop interrupting, Sixty-Six, I’m trying to say bye to Yugen!”

Sixty-Six gave a shrug and let Yugen go. Upstairs, Forty-Four was exactly where Yugen expected; his bedroom. She was somewhat rattled when Yugen entered the room, frantically stuffing clothes into his underwear drawer with the clumsiness of a caught thief.

“O-oh, hello, Yugen! I… um… I shined your mirror and cleaned your windows, so you can look out over Parakos! It… it looks good, doesn’t it?” she asked, her voice desperately eager.

“…you… you really didn’t have to do all this,” Yugen said, though seeing the results of her handiwork, it was nothing to balk at. “Forty-Four, I have something to tell you.”

“Really?” the woman said, her voice heightening in pitch. She brushed off her niqab and pushed a chestnut lock back into her veil as she turned to face Yugen. “So… so what is it? What did you want to tell me?”

“Forty-Four… you’ve been so incredibly loyal to me despite the fact it wasn’t me you swore your loyalty to. You’ve adjusted to Vardyn’s loss like a true professional and I’m glad you respect my authority with the same deference as you did my mentor’s.”

“Oh, it’s… well, it’s more than that, it’s…”

“…I know,” Yugen said, giving her an attempt at a proud smile. “You understand the seriousness of your job and you respect the position more than who you’re serving. For that attitude, you have my utmost respect. And making sure my work area is clean despite that not even being part of your duties… it shows dedication, the kind I envy, honestly.”

“Well… I mean, it’s… it’s not just a love for my job, I…”

“Because of your incredible loyalty, I’ve decided I’m going to increase your pay from five gold a month to eight gold a month, as a token of my appreciation.”

Forty-Four’s eyes were wide, and she stepped back from Yugen for a moment. While her veil somewhat obscured them, the woman seemed to be tearing up.

“…of… of course, I… thank you, boss, I… I really appreciate it…” she mumbled.

Yugen walked up to her and took hold of her shoulders. “You don’t need to be down on yourself, Forty-Four. Even though I don’t know your name or your face, I know a good, hard worker when I see one. You’re a credit to the Eyes. I know a pay-rise isn’t the most personal gift I could give, but… given I’m only your boss, I think it’s appropriate.”

“Yeah… you… you’re my boss, it’s… it’s the best you can do and… and you’re… you’re so kind to up my pay like that…”

“Now, let’s go for drinks together,” Yugen said. “Does that sound good? We can make a night of it.”

Suddenly, the woman’s hazel eyes lit up. “That… you and me, out for drinks? That… that sounds wonderful, I… I’d love to… I know it’s a little strange, boss, but I’ve often wanted to drink with you…”

“Ah, you think drinking with the Parakosi Masters will be glamourous, probably. They’re not as above-it-all as they seem, I assure you.”

“…the… Parakosi Masters?”

“Yes, El’kha’s going to be drinking with us at the Daemon’s Tentacle, why?”

Forty-Four’s voice tensed up. “Oh, it’s… it sounds like it’s going to be a lot of fun. I’ve always wanted to see what Swordmaster El’kha is like when she’s off duty…”

Yugen took his hands off the woman’s shoulders and clasped them together. “Very well, then! Drinks! I’d make you pay with your newfound riches, but let’s wait for payday, eh?”

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