"Seeing one last person like your fanfic... It fills you with determination." Thought I'd start off with a Undertale joke (GOD I LOVE THAT GAME). I can't twll if anyone was disappointed in me for stopping the production of this, but I know I was. I just kind of... moved on. In a way, I guess. Truth is, I have like 5 chapters stocked up, and I plan to serve you them. Someone recently filled my heart with joy as they praised me for making this, and I knew it wasn't time to let go. Not just yet. If you are wondering about The Dividing War, that is almost certainly dead for sure. I might take up writing it by myself, but I certainly wouldn't count on it. Nevertheless, we have some Project Mech to enjoy! (Sorry for not parting the paragraphs liek normal, you've gotta give me credit. It's midnight.)
Chapter 4: The Deserter
“Here we are guys! The grand city of Goldreach!” Pip exclaimed, displaying the city in front of us with a swoop of her hand.
She wasn’t wrong, it was certainly grand. Buildings towered above our heads like some sort of a beacon while an assortment of keidran and humans crowded the dense streets. I could see shop after shop, home after home, business after business line these streets. Mechanical airships flew overhead of us, and I stared in awe at the size of the metal beast.
“What is that thing?!” Stella exclaimed, pointing at the sky.
I smiled, “An airship.”
A big, metal gate was in front of us, signifying that this was the way into this bustling settlement. The large doors were pushed open, giving us a good view of the people within. Thick metal walls surrounded the city as far as the eye could see, protecting it from invaders and containing the people within. On either side of the gates were tall archer towers that had a handful of armored guards occupying them. They stared us down as we walked into the city.
An armored human lady stopped us with a hand, her spare one placed upon her weapon. She looked to be some sort of elite guard as she wore expensive looking platemail while the other guards seemed to equip chainmail based armor. Her brown skin and black hair contrasted against her light grey armor. Her brown eyes looked a bit more inviting than the other guards, but you could still tell she was cautious.
“Citizens! What brings you to Goldreach?” the woman asked.
Pip stepped forward, and grabbed out a circular metal object from a pocket of her overalls. It looked similar to a silver pocket watch, with a little nub on top to seemingly open the device and reveal the clock within. This wasn’t the case, however. When Pip pressed the button, a small inner circle of the front side flipped over to reveal a small document that gave detail of her Crafter status, the circle emitting a metal shing sound as it moved. It was cut into circle shape to fit the rest of the little device, and a matching glass panel covered the paper, a bronze circle keeping the thing together.
Pip held out the watch-like thing to the guards face, her voice sounding deep and official.
“Piper Vekula, Apprentice Crafter, Assembly Class. Me and my friends are here to take a trip to the library to meet with someone.”
The dark-skinned woman squinted her eyes at me, “And why the hell do you have a slave, miss?”
I looked to Stella, who was standing patiently around, her ears perking up at the mention of her, and then I looked back to the guard.
“I-I’m making a trade…?” I said in an accidental questioning tone. The guard shrugged and waved us in. She stopped me before I could make it in though, her brown eyes piercing into me with a serious look.
“A word of advice: I wouldn’t go around looking like that. We already have enough scum to clean up on a daily basis. Don’t conform to their standards, I don’t want to have to add you to my list of things to deal with.”
She shoved me away a little, making me stumble backward. I looked away bashfully like a scolded child. The woman started to walk off but stopped halfway through her walk. Without turning to face me, she spoke.
“Also, don’t act so shifty. The citizens of Faiveth already have trouble trusting people. Just… be careful. And honest.”
And with that, she entered the archer tower to resume her duties. I mentally cussed the lady out in my mind, mumbling hate as I struggled to catch up to Piper. Stella ran behind me to keep up, her chains jingling around the air.
“What an [censored]!” I spat hatefully, “Who gives her permission to talk to me like that? She doesn’t even know me!”
Stella slowed her jog a bit, “She’s got a point though. You still are dressed in your thieving clothes. You don’t exactly look too… clean.”
I ran a hand into my curly brown hair with frustration, “I know, I know, but she didn’t have to be a bitc-… Eh, she didn’t have to be rude about it.”
I saw Pip in the distance, browsing shops from windows. Running up, I could see she was looking at sort of jewelry store with googly eyes. She had her hands upon the window, hopping back and forth to different pieces. I couldn’t help but chuckle at her.
“See anything you like, Piper?” I asked a grin, putting a hand on my hip.
“I love it all!” she shouted, her not leaving the display. I noticed one piece had a price tag of 1200 human coins on it. I shuddered at the sight.
“Geez, these prices are steep…” I whispered under my breath.
Pip shook her head, “Eck, I don’t want to be caught up looking at this! We’ve got business to do!”
She looked at me with pitifully, her black hair toppling downward was she looked down, “Sorry for being distracted.”
I smiled, “It’s fine, Pip! I was actually going to go shopping myself before we head to the library. I mean, I’ve already had several people comment on my clothes…”
Pip clapped her hands with swiftness and excitement, “Oooh! I love to shop in Goldreach! Tell me; what’s your price range and what style are you looking for?”
I gave her a sideways look, “Uh… style?”
“Y’know, are you looking to be fancy and posh, or something more casual? Or maybe you are looking for armor? Well, given what you are wearing, I bet you want robes!”
I stopped her with hand, “I just want something that won’t attract any attention to me. Also, something light would be nice.”
Pip frowned, but quickly pondered on it. She looked around the city, moving her head around to see past the travelling citizens on the streets. She pointed to a quint little shop on a corner. It was made of brick, with a small oaken sign that extended away from the store above the door. One long glass pane let people see within the shop.
“That shop should do nicely. If I remember correctly, it called “The Velvet”. It’s got a pretty fancy name for a shop that sells commoner’s clothes.”
We walked into the crowd of citizens of all sorts to make our way to The Velvet. I held Stella close to my back so she wouldn’t get lost into the crowd around us. Even she was a bit frightened by the sheer amount of people that occupied the streets, as she came up closer to my side with a small whimper arising from her throat. I moved the chain to my hand farthest away from her and grabbed her arm softly for comfort. She looked a bit confused at first, but accepted the gesture with a warm smile.
Ahead of us, Pip had already reached the door of the little shop. She grasped the handle with a firm hold and swung the thing open with a bit more force than a normal person would. The glass door flung outward, and started to retract almost instantly. Pip stuck out her foot and stopped the door from moving with her wrapped paw. She smiled and waved us in.
Passing the basitin with a small grin, I walked into the small shop with Stella following closely behind. Pip checked around a bit and went in as well. The walls were a very dark purple, almost being black, and the wallpaper seemed to be a bit beaten up in places. The shop showed obvious age, probably a family-owned store that was passed down a few generations. Clothes hung from racks that dotted the shop and a counter was placed near the back of the shop to the left.
A bored looking keidran kid sat near the counter, his feet placed crossed on it. He was a sort of feline, his fur bright yellow and dotted. He noticed our presence and kicked his feet down and stood. Shuffling out from the desk, he put his hands into the pockets of his brown slacks.
“Welcome to The Velvet,” he said casually, “If you need any help, just let me know.”
I nodded, “Thank you, sir. I’ll tell you if I see anything I like.”
Pip looked up to me, “I can take Stella’s chain while you look, if you want.”
I turned to Stella, who was sheepishly holding her hands to her chest. gazing around the store. She noticed me look and raised an eyebrow to show her attention.
“Are you okay with Piper holding you for a bit?” I asked.
“That’s fine, I suppose. Yeah, I don’t mind,” she grinned shyly. I nodded and handed the connecting chain to Pip. The basitin grabbed the metal links with care and dropped her hand to her side. I decided to look around.
Looking about the cheap clothes for a few minutes, something caught my eye. A plaid flannel shirt with light blue and white stripes sat folded in front of me. I smiled a bit, this shirt would do! I grabbed the long sleeved overshirt and swung it over my forearm. In that same pile the plaid shirt was in, I saw some tan shorts. They looked to be cargo shorts, the many pockets of the pants would come in handy. The shorts were obviously meant for women, the shorts being a bit to short for an average man.
Walking over to the counter, I took out the coin sack that was attached to my robe. The kid looked over the price tags and back at me.
“Uhuh… Yeah, that’ll be 63 gold pieces, please.”
I shrugged, grabbing out currency and counted it out, “Not a bad price… You were right, Pip!”
She giggled, “I know my stores, trust me!”
I rolled my eyes playfully and grabbed up my clothes and started to head out. Piper held out Stella’s chain, and I took it carefully out of her hand, putting it in my spare hand.
Stella looked at me with surprise, “You know how to count?”
“Yeah, of course! What, you don’t…?”
She looked down in embarrassment, “No, I was never taught how. Just like I can’t read or write… I can count up to fourteen, but that’s about it…”
I patted her shoulder, “Let’s just hope your new owner is nice enough to teach you some of that stuff.”
“I wouldn’t count on it…” she said with depression.
Pip put her hands on her hip and gave Stella a serious look.
“Hey, there isn’t any harm in hoping, Stella! Why are you always moping around, huh?”
“Because she’s a slave! Wouldn’t you act the same way if you had slavery waiting around the corner for you?” I shouted, defending Stella.
I turned to the sad wolf, “Pip isn’t wrong though. You should at least act like you’re happy. C’mon, just enjoy the time that you have away from people that think you are just a bag of dirt.”
Stella looked up from the ground with a little happy grin, “Okay, yeah. Sorry for acting like an [censored]. I should try to be a little more cheerful.”
“That’s the spirit!” Pip shouted, thrusting her hands upward, “But we could probably go soon, the library closes in an hour.”
I glanced outside through the large glass window, looking past tall buildings and the crowd of citizens.
“Huh? But it’s only four o’clock… Oh well. Are you guys ready to go?”
Stella and Piper nodded simultaneously.
“Okay, let’s head out to the library then,” I said, walking out of the door.
“Come by The Velvet again!” the keidran boy shouted behind us.
“Is this thing the library?” I asked, looking at the huge building in front of us. Pip nodded, craning her head upward as well.
The building stood tall and proud against all the other small houses surrounding this beautiful part of the city. A white and gray tiled plaza rested below our feet, creating a smooth and large place for citizens to gather. It was definitely quieter than the rest of the bustling city, there weren’t many people around and you could hear the wind as it rustled through the autumn colored leaves of the trees. The sun almost seemed to shine brighter here in this clear sky, making the area even more pretty.
I turned my attention to the grand building once more. It was about three or four stories tall, however, it was more wide than tall. The structure was almost completely marble. There were four symmetrical columns that supported the roof that extended past the walls, creating a small line of shade. Long and thin stairs lead up to the building, and I could see the large reddish-brown doors from here. They were nearly half as tall as the building, and two golden, vertical handles stuck out from it.
“Damn… what a place,” I commented, bewildered by the magnificence of this particular location.
Stella looked a great amount more stunned by this place than I was.
“This building is just… massive! Wow, I can’t believe such a place exists!”
Piper shrugged, “You still haven’t seen the inside. Come on, let’s get in there!”
Walking the dozen or so steps, we started to make our way to the big library. After walking across the long concrete slab that separates the stairs from the building, Piper ran ahead of us and grabbed the handle of the door. With much exertion, she grunted and pulled as hard as her small frame would allow her to, slowly stepping backward with the door. She dropped the handle and bent over, placing her hands on her knees and panting very softly.
“I’m not closing that…” she protested with loss of breath.
I shrugged and grabbed the handle. I waited for Pip to go in, and then I started to pull the door shut. Pip sure made it seem a lot heavier than it was, as I pulled the door with relative ease. I held Stella’s chain close to my hip as she moved with the edge of the thing, being restricted by the links of metal.
Gazing around the innards of this structure, I marveled at the sheer space this building contained. Each one of our footsteps echoed throughout, making for a bit of an eerie setting. In front of me and for the rest of my vision could tell, there were tall and sleek book shelves, each of them filled mostly with books. Chandeliers hung from many different locations, giving off dim but relaxing light. It was just enough to light up this massive building.
A man was placed by a desk - presumably a secretary’s desk - nose down in a book. I could see from his forehead and the fingers that wrapped around the book that he was a human. His flesh was almost a pale color, showing he must spend more time in books than outside. Spiky, russet hair protruded from his skull, the hair standing up for the most part, but a few strands dangled unto his forehead.
Moving a bit closer, I saw a glimpse of the man’s face. I instantly recognized who was behind the book.
Before I could say anything, Pip jumped out in front of me. She looked deeply enraged for some reason. I was startled at her uncanny emotions, jumping back a bit. She took one large step forward, grasping the book. With one swift motion, Piper slammed down the book with great force. The man jumped back in his seat with surprise, his rounded glasses falling down the bridge of his nose.
Piper shifted her body with disgust, her head pointed downward slightly with her eyes locked onto him.
“Bradley Exodus Valentine. ‘The Ever Promising Exodus Mage’. A damn lie that was, huh?”
He looked startled for another moment, but something clicked in Bradley’s mind. He grinned slightly, standing from his seat and pushing his rounded glasses up his nose once more. His expression changed to match Piper’s.
“Ah, I see. A Crafter, aren’t you? I thought your kind was done harassing me.”
She clenched her fists, “And I thought you were done running, Valentine.”
He opened his arms and revealed the massive library behind him, “Oh, I have. I’m a historian now, I think that classifies as ‘not running’. Look, whatever [censored] they feed you kid, it’s mostly just that. I don’t give a damn about The Crafters anymore, and neither should they about me. Whatever you are here for, save it.”
I raised my hand, “Actually, I was here for you…”
He moved from behind the desk, pushing Pip out of the way. She stumbled around, giving him a dirty look. As he approached me, he adjusted his glasses to see me better.
“What an interesting breed of Keidran you are! You are lucky I’m not a slaver dear, you’d fetch a lot of coins for your exoticness!” he complimented.
Bradley looked down at the chain I held in my hand and followed its trace to Stella’s cuffs. He adjusted his glasses once more, frowning a bit.
“Oh. I see you’ve already taken up such a profession…”
I looked down at the chain with a bit of surprise, shaking my head vigorously, “N-no, you’ve got it wrong! I’m no slaver, I’m only… erm, delivering her. That doesn’t sound much better, does it…?”
Stella stepped forward, “I requested that she deliver me to my buyer. She isn’t a slaver at all, sir.”
Bradley nodded, “I see now. Sorry for the assumptious behavior I was displaying just then, Faiveth can be filled with dirty people.”
“Just look in the mirror, you’ll see one,” Pip commented sourly to Bradley. He closed his eyes and chose to ignore her instead of carry on the fight.
“Hey, what gives anyway?” Piper demanded, “You should know that this is The Crafters library! What the hell are you doing sticking around here if you were on the run?”
Bradley slipped a hand into one of the front pockets of his black overcoat, pulling out a metallic object. It was a Crafters Watch!
“In case you haven’t forgotten child, I am still a Crafter. I never resigned, nor was I exiled from their organization. Simply put, I was only marked as a ‘deserter’. That doesn’t mean my name nor my title has expired in any way.”
“That’s impossible!” Piper shouted, “You are a deserter, they would of had to unvalidated your status!”
Bradley grinned deviously, “You are wrong. I never actually deserted my mission. In fact I’m still on it.”
I shook my head with frustration, “Wait wait wait! I’m so confused! Can we start from the top?”
Bradley sighed, “As much as I’d like to give away top secret information, I can’t just give it away to strangers! I’d at least like to know who you are. Let’s start with The Crafter, huh?”
Piper crossed her arms, looking away, “The name’s Piper Vekula, Apprentice Crafter, Assembly Class. I already know who you are, Valentine. Bradley Exodus Valentine, Expert Crafter, Magic and Animation Class. You were just a step away from become the Master of that class, weren’t you?”
He nodded, “I was, but that isn’t the subject of matter right now.”
Bradley looked at me, “How about you?”
I scratched my neck, “Me? Well, I was kind of shipped here to Faiveth for personal reasons. I was actually on your father’s boat. That’s why I came to see you in the first place. Your father told me too.”
Bradley clapped his hands together, “Ah, you must be Natalie Ra’shev! My father talked about you quite a bit! You too, Stella. I knew your story sounded a bit familiar.”
“Wait, when did you see Jon?” I asked.
He laughed, “While you were hanging around that Crafter, Father came to give me a quick visit. He must of slipped by you without you noticing.”
Bradley studied me a bit, “So, that’s it? You just wanted to drop by and give me a good hello? I appreciate the thought, but I could have been without The Crafter over there…”
“Yea… I guess so? I was only going to go to you for directions to the Gallegos Farms b-”
“Wait!” he shouted, stopping my sentence with his hand, “Gallegos? As in Wendell Gallegos?”
I glanced around the room awkwardly, “…Yes?”
Bradley smiled and hugged me suddenly, “I must see Wendell! He is my best friend, don’t you know?”
His hug started to get tighter as I was slowly losing my airflow, a crunching sound emitting from my ribcage. I struggled for breath under his really powerful bear hug.
“I di-didn’t know he w-was your friend,” I wheezed.
He released the hug, sending me stumbling and gasping for air. I rubbed my violated ribcage as my lips frowned in pain. I noticed tears streaming from Bradley’s eyes as he tried to conceal his face in his black overcoat.
“Are… you crying?” I asked, trying to hold back the spurt of laughter that was arising in my throat.
“No,” he answered very briefly, shaking his head, “I’m just… uh, I have something in my eyes, that’s all
Bradley rubbed out the unmanly tears of joy away from his eyes as he cleared his throat, adjusting his glasses once more. He walked around the arched secretary desk and snatched up the wooden chair that was placed behind it. As he set it down, a rather soft bang came from the bottoms of the legs, echoing throughout the library. Bradley sat down with a quiet grunt, placing his right leg upon his left, resting his interlocked hands on his waist.
“I do believe it’s story time, is it not?” he asked with a sly smile, “Please, do take a seat.”
I shrugged and grabbed a chair from a table not too far away from me. Stella followed close and acquired one as well. Placing mine a few feet from Bradley, I sat down patiently. Stella did the same, placing her chair right next to me on my left side. Bradley turned to Pip, who was leaning on the desk behind him.
“Care to join us, Piper?” he asked with fake hospitality.
“Not really, I’m good where I am,” she spat back, looking away from him.
Bradley shrugged, “Suit yourself then…”
“Anyway, where to start…?” he thought out loud, “Ah! I know. I’ll start with the mission, that seems to get people riled up. Well, I was in fact a good Crafter and a good magician - a real one, not that kind that play with cards - and I rose the ranks of the Crafters with ease. Upon my second year, I was nominated to become a Master of Magic and Animation. Of course, any sane person would be honored to have such an opportunity, and I was. Right before the announcement of the new Master, I was assigned a mission. Now, this is where it gets a bit tricky.
“I personally was hunting for the journal of Valb’rgur Azelinus. Heh, that’s his Keidran name at least. He always wanted to be called Carter Bradford anyway. But of course, my team had no idea that his journal was where we were going.”
Piper’s jaw dropped, “You stole his journal? Are you mad? I knew what you stole was something important, but I didn’t know you stole from the First Metalmaster!”
Turning around in his seat, he pointed at Pip, “Shut it! I am getting to that part.”
“Interruptions aside, me and my team were sent to retrieve some artifact, I can’t quite remember what it did. Either way, while poking around the rubble of Bryalshire Castle - the place where we were sent - I came across Mr. Azelinus’ journal. After realizing it was his journal, I decided that I should study it to find out the secrets that man kept from everyone.”
“Jarvin Sieben, the Metalmaster at the time, demanded the book be handed to him. In return, I told him to screw himself, and I took the book for myself. So Piper, I hadn’t ever stole the journal, I found it. Now, had the mission been to retrieve the journal instead the petty artifact, I would have been delighted to give it to the Metalmaster. But the facts were that I found it for myself, while my team nor the Metalmaster did not.”
Piper stood up straight, “You left out the part where you left your entire team to die in a explosion! Or did you cause that to make sure no one could take the journal away from you?”
Bradley crossed his arms, “Did they really tell you that, child? Foolish. It is simply not true, we were raided. My team was poking around Bryalshire Castle when an explosion hit the castle. A whole gang of bandits showed up, looking for trouble. Since that castle was old and abandoned, the scrawny thing came down with one hit of the base.”
He closed his eyes with deep pain, “My entire team died with the tower. All of them were crushed in the falling rubble. I only lived because I was on the top of the tower, with no roof to kill me. The worst part was the bandits didn’t even know who we were. They just wanted the artifact for money.”
“I… I killed all of them. I was so enraged that all of my friends were swept away in one foul swoop because a few damned bandits. After disposing of the murderous fiends, I searched the rubble for… hours. Not a single person was alive. I found the artifact intact in the rubble, so I snatched it up and ran away. Of course, I already had the journal in hand, so there wasn’t a reason to stay. The worst part was that Jarvin just swept it under the rug like never happened. So of course I wasn’t going to give that [censored] the journal!”
“After that day, I stopped practicing magic. It got me into that mess, and I never wanted that again. So, I decided to become a historian instead! I still get to learn many things, but I have an astoundingly less chance of dying when I do this!”
Pip crossed her arms, “Do you still have the journal?”
He shrugged, “Of course, I’m still studying it.”
“Then… I’m afraid I’ll need to confiscate it,” Pip demanded, holding out her hand.
I stepped in, “What the hell, Piper? Can’t you just drop it? Bradley found the journal, so therefore it’s his! You don’t have the right to take it. Besides, his entire team died for this, don’t you remember?”
“Do you honestly expect me to believe that?! The Exodus Mage is a lying and cheating man! Don’t trust him over me!” she shouted across the library.
I shook my head, “I… I don’t care who is telling the truth! It doesn’t matter! This is all so pointless. Whatever reason Bradley had for leaving, I trust that it was for good. Just look at him, Pip. Does he really look that bad of a person?”
She took a moment to look at him. He was standing there, his eyes filled with tears. He sobbed quietly into his hands, his glasses pushed up to his forehead. Bradley’s shoulders moved with his sobs.
Piper closed her eyes, “I don’t understand… why would the Metalmaster lie to me about this?”
Bradley looked up from his hands, his eyes a bit reddened by his crying, “Whoever the Metalmaster is now, they were probably just telling you what they were told. I do not take it personally.”
He looked at the door, “Library closes in an hour… you should get going. Hey, Natalie?”
“Yes?” I asked politely.
“Tell Wendell I said hello. Tell him to come visit sometime.”
I shrugged, “Okay, I can do that.”